Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Weekend TV Review

Weekend TV Review

“Have I Got News for You” started the weekend on a roll, with Giles Brandreth’s take on the EU Referendum. What will happen if we leave? Armageddon. And if we stay? Disaster. We simply do not know what will happen.

Of course Giles does tend to dominate, and getting a word in edgeways may be one reason why he is not on shows like HIGNFY quite so often, but he had an interesting a pertinent anecdote from his time in John Major’s Conservative Government, as a Tory MP, along with David Cameron – “we were both office juniors, back then”.

The European Exchange rate mechanism was a precursor to a single currency – as I recall for some reason it was called “The Snake”. The UK joined, and then pressure began on sterling in the volatile currency markets.

To keep parity, with a run on the pound, the Bank of England had to raise interest rates until they were way up around 18% or so, and eventually and sensibly, the UK cut loose and the pound returned to normal, and interest rates came down. It was an extraordinary few weeks. And as Giles said, when it was happening, we didn’t know why it was happening, and afterwards, we didn’t know what had happened either.

The apocalyptic scare tactics are that the UK plunged into a Great Depression within days if we leave, or 200 million immigrants will be flooding in a month if we remain - Giles was exaggerating, but not as far off the mark as that. Claims are being made which are totally unfounded and exaggerated, and as a result, no one will be voting on the basis of informed debate.

In this, the BBC, picking holes in both sides arguments, is presenting probably the most balanced view.


Saturday night was not a lot on, so it was time to get out the old DVD, and watch a classic I had not seen for some time. “Westworld” is a futuristic resort which recreates the authentic flavour of the Wild West – with robots. Gunfights can take place, and fake blood makes them look realistic.

Although the focus is on Westworld, the movie also takes a glimpse of Medieval World and Roman World. Meanwhile, beneath the ground, along corridors is a master control room, and machine workshops for repairing all the humanoid robots. It’s great fun, and the first three quarters of the movie is spend following our two protagonists as they enjoy the Wild West, and slay the gunslinger (played by Yul Brinner) a number of times. Back in the Middle Ages, a rather lecherous middle aged man is starting an affair with the Queen, and looking forward to winning a fight against the Black Knight.

The fine detail of the robot – the arm with plastic removed, the face taken off to reveal a riot of transistors etc, and the snake (which also is electronic) opened up to show its electronic innards is all very well done. The clunky computers, large filing cabinets with tapes whirling away, have dated somewhat. But it is still watchable.

But problems are mounting. The machines are breaking down and malfunctioning. and no one knows why. The chief operator shows charts of breakdowns, and it is clear that something rather nasty is going to happen. But it builds up in degrees – the snake bites a guest, a medieval peasant girl slaps the amorous advances of our letch. Then the machines take over. The control team cut the power, which is a mistake, as the machines had run on stored charge for up to 12 hours.

The gunslinger kills one of the protagonists, and the movie becomes a chase as he frantically tries to get away from our gunslinger – one of those fully charged, who does not tire or give up. I won’t spoil the ending, but this is a movie which brings forth all the worst fears about artificial intelligence. As the controller says – “the machines design the machines; they are so complex even we don’t fully understand them now.”

The new Top Gear was very good. We started watching 15 minutes in, about the right time. I saw the introduction later, and the fast cars sequence is fun, but nothing really to rave about. It is the road trip from London to Blackpool in two revamped Reliant Robins, one of which is anything but reliable, that brought in the comedy.

Matt le Blanc, in particular, shines here, and here on, with his portrayal of an American who is totally unused to quaint British customs. It is all an act, of course, but it makes for extremely funny television. Chris Evans, meantime, really shines in the studio with the banter with the guests.

Contrary to what other commentators have said, I could find no sign that Matt le Blanc or Chris Evans didn’t hit it off; on the contrary, they seemed very relaxed with each other. It is early days, and the show feels slightly raw, but it is certainly eminently watchable and entertaining, and isn’t it rather nice not to have the chauvinistic attitudes that crept into the old show? I’ll probably be watching next week, as there isn’t a lot else on Sundays at present.

On Monday morning, coming to with a coffee and some scrambled egg with sautéed new potatoes (left over from Sunday lunch), I watched the second episode of Saints versus Scoundrels. A fascinating dramatised debate between Rousseau and St Augustine, as they play chess (Augustine has been taught by Rousseau!), and presented in a 20th century context by Dr Benjamin Wiker.

This is on EWTN, the Catholic religious channel, but it is extremely well done, and quite fair to both protagonists, although as you might expect, Augustine wins the debate – and the chess match. It is a debate between the perfectibility of man (Rousseau) and the sinfulness (and failings as human beings), and of course, cleverly interspersed in the dramatic debate are references and selections from their confessions, because both Augustine and Rousseau wrote a work entitled “Confessions” – Augustine on his spiritual journey and his past life, “in love with love”, and having a concubine, and Rousseau in direct answer to Augustine, and having a mistress.

It’s a fascinating debate, and Rousseau does hit some points. Augustine did not ask to become a Bishop, but was seized by the people, by popular acclaim, yet kept his simple garb and lifestyle, and would not accept finery. He took the case of the poor for justice to those who were powerful. But by Rousseau’s time, the church had become part of the establishment, clergy decked out in fine and fancy robes, ceremonial which showed off almost like a peacock display.

It does make you wonder where today’s church is. Under Pope Francis, it is hearing again a call of the poor, of justice, and peace and fair sharing of the world’s riches not just for a few, but the ceremonial is still present, and the Anglican church, in particular, is still bound up with the establishment more than the working classes.

I didn’t have a good opportunity to see all of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, because I was out for a walk to Corbiere lighthouse as darkness fell. I hope to see it all later, probably next weekend. What I did see showed Russell T Davies genius, to take the text, as it is, not to change the words, but to think long and hard and creatively, and produce a wonderfully accessible Shakespeare. Purists have apparently objected, but I thought it was brilliant, and can’t wait to see more.

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Parish Church of St John – Part 2

Here is part two of the forgotten piece by G.R. Balleine on the history of the Church, transcribed below. Balleine had a wonderful grasp of how to make historical narrative interesting, and peppers his history with interesting anecdotes.

The Parish Church of St John – Part 2
By G.R. Balleine

Missing Records

The main source of information about all our old Churches is the Act Book of the Assemblee Ecclesiastique. Here every alteration and addition of the Church is recorded. But at St John's these books have gone astray. They were in the Constable's safe in Mr Falla's time, for they appear on the list of the contents of the safe that he drew up. But since then someone must have borrowed them and forgotten to return them. If anyone can throw any light on their present whereabouts, the Constable or Rector or indeed myself will be grateful for the information.

However here are a few miscellaneous facts that have been unearthed. From the Reformation till 1939 the new South Aisle, which Thomas Lempriere built was used as the main part of the Church, the old Nave and the old Chancel becoming rather neglected.

The date of a Chancel being added to this aisle is uncertain but it must have been long before 1799, for in that year it was reported to be in danger of collapsing and the Parish ordered it to be rebuilt and reroofed. It was then not used for Services, but for the Day School and Parish Meetings, and a stone staircase from the churchyard led into an upper room.

On December 16th 1733, the spire was partially destroyed by lightning during the Morning Service. In 1753 there was trouble over the theft of a silver ewer used for baptisms. In 1774 a weathercock was placed on the top of the spire. In 1777 a gallery was built at the west end of the church, and the tresor had to pay for several dinners, which the Principaux of the Parish consumed while discussing this proposal. In 1791 a new three-decker pulpit with sounding board was provided. This was cut down to its present size in 1921 and is still in use. In 1796 the steeple started to give trouble, and 700 livres tournois were spent on its repair. These, however, were unsuccessful, and in 1804 it had to be pulled down and rebuilt from its foundations. What a pity no one showed the builder what a beautiful thing a steeple can be!

XIXth Century

In 1801 permission was given to Mr Dumaresq whose family had outgrown its pew, to build a small gallery above it to provide additional seats. In 1831 a big restoration of the church took place. The north door, where the Vestry now is, was walled up to keep out the draught; the aisles were paved; the South-East Chapel was turned into a regular Chancel, and a communion table placed at the east end; the singers' gallery (wherever that was; it was not the west gallery, for we hear of that later) and Mr Dallain's gallery were pulled down; and all the pews were made a uniform four :feet in height and painted the same colour.

We now come to the great pillar controversy. The people in the south aisle could not see the pulpit because of a huge pillar that blocked the view. In 1828 the Civil Assembly passed an Act instructing the Rector to apply to the Ecclesiastical Court for permission to remove this pillar. But he hesitated, fearing that its removal might bring down the roof. In 1831 the Assembly renewed its Act, adding that it would be responsible for any damage done. But the Ecclesiastical Court refused permission.

When a new Rector, Samuel White, was appointed in 1849, the antipillarites returned to the attack. But it seemed to him too that their proposal was too dangerous a piece of surgery to attempt on an an old building. But Jerseymen never own themselves beaten. One summer Mr White went for a holiday to France. On his return he found the pillar standing in the Rectory garden, where it can still be seen; and the roof had not collapsed.

From a technical point of view the broad arch that was left behind, when two arches were thrown into one, may be an architectural monstrosity, but from a practical point of view it was a great improvement. Now the preacher can see the congregation, and the congregation the preacher.

Later Renovations

In 1858 the church certainly had an organ, for in that year the tresor paid to have it tuned. But by 1880 this was worn out, for a report says that it was beyond repair; the woodwork was worm-eaten, the leather perished, and the pipes only fit to be sold as scrap metal.

Its place was taken for the next half-century by a wheezy harmonium. In the following year the steeple was given its hideous coat of cement. A note in 1888 shows that the singers then sat in a gallery over the present altar.

More Recent Times

In 1920 a move was made again to restore the Church. This led to tremendous controversies. The first plan was rejected "because it would involve expense beyond the resources of the parish". Mr Charles de Gruchy was then appointed architect. His plans, were accepted by the Assembly, but ten days later a number of parishioners demanded a new Assembly, which rejected his plans, and appointed a fresh committee. The committee's Report was thrown overboard by the next Assembly; and the following meeting formally recsinded the whole proposal for restoration.

Nevertheless the churchwardens persevered and in 1924 at last a plan was produced that was approved by the parish. The west and east galleries were pulled down, and the whole building was thoroughly repaired. Several painted glass windows were then presented.

Meanwhile the steeple proved to have been so badly built, that a bush rooted itself in a crack half-way up, and appears in many picture post-cards of the period. A steeplejack's report on the condition of the spire in 1926 said, "The projection where the bush is lets the rain percolate into the interior of the tower", and the estimate included, "Cut out the bush and its roots".

In 1934 Mr Hornby came to the parish, and under his care the church assumed its present appearance. First the vestry was built and electric light introduced. Then the Rector hoped to strip all the plaster off the walls, and leave the granite bare as at St Brelade's. A beginning was made at the east end; but the parish did not like it, and the Assembly put its foot down and stopped the work. It agreed, however, to restore the north chapel to its old position as the chancel, and place a new altar and choir stalls there.

An electric Hammond organ was also bought. as it was thought that this would be less affected by the dampness of the building than an organ of the older type. This proved to be true for it is still in use. The dampness is caused by the high water table. The disused boiler-room under the chance] is always under water, as a spring runs under the building, and the churchyard cannot be used because water is reached only a few feet below the surface of the ground.

When Mr Hornby became Rector in 1938, after helping Mr Nicolle during the last years of his life, a bitter controversy raged about the renovation of the Rectory, built in 1819. Finally it was razed to the ground and the present Rectory was built on the old site immediately prior to the war.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 17

For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

It is interesting is that while Balleine is a religious man, he is also a man of the scientific age. Where there are miracles, he looks for what are essentially scientific explanations, in terms of biology or psychology, and for historical parallels. Faith can heal, and even apparently restore from the dead - but there are good reasons for that. His use of comparative religions is also interesting, as he uses that to explain that healing it itself does not validate the theology of the healer.

Most of the illustrations and icons depict Tabitha as a young woman, but there is no indication of that in the text. Rather as Balleine describes her - a "lady bountiful", giving to the early Christian movement, and a widow, she might well have been an older woman, so I have managed to find a suitable picture.

More Visits To Philip's Converts by G.R. Balleine

WHEN Philip left Samaria, he travelled south to the Plain of Sharon, the old land of the Philistines, which Jesus does not seem to have visited. In a wayside pool, near the ruins of Gaza, he baptized a negro, `a man of Ethiopia', who was treasurer of the black Queen of a Nubian kingdom south of Egypt. Apparently Philip already seems to have thought of Christianity as a world-wide religion. By this baptism he defied one of the Mosaic laws. Slaves in the women's quarters of a palace had to be castrated; and the Law excluded all eunuchs from `the congregation of the Lord'.

Philip then turned north along the coast road, `preaching in every town, till he reached Caesarea', the Roman capital of Judea, where twenty years later we find him still living. At Lydda and Joppa he formed groups of disciples.

When Peter heard this, he hurried to the district. Baptizing negroes! Baptizing eunuchs! What next would this young man be doing? Clearly his work needed supervision. Peter did not want the Church to be saddled with another Simon Magus. His journey raises again the problem of miracles. An outbreak of miracles had apparently followed the healing of the cripple in the Temple. `Many signs and marvels,' we are told, `were done by the Apostles; the sick were laid on mats in the streets, that the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on one or other of them.' But no particulars of cures are given, and this excitement seems to have died away.

But now on his journey to the West we are told of his healing a bedridden man who was paralysed and restoring to life a woman who seemed to be dead. If these stories are late legends, we lose faith in the rest of Luke's record.

But a little acquaintance with similar movements restores our confidence in Acts. Precisely analogous statements are made by early Quakers, sober seventeenth-century Englishmen, who made it a point of conscience, even to the verge of crankiness, never to stray a hair's-breadth from the truth. George Fox writes in his journal: `I lighted at a Friend's house, and the lass made a fire, her master and dame being gone to market. And there was a boy lying in a cradle, about three years old, who was grown almost double. The Lord moved me to lay my hands on him; and we passed away. Some time after, I met his mother. "Oh," she said, "the country is convinced by the miracle you did on my son. We had carried him to Wells and Bath, and all doctors had given him over. But, after you was gone, we came home, and found him playing in the street." This was about three years ago, and he was grown a straight youth.'

There is even a case in which a Quaker is said to have raised the dead. Next to Fox no leader was better loved than Nayler. In 1656 he was confined with other Quakers in Exeter Jail. One of them, a widow named Dorcas Erbury, fell ill, and appeared to die. For two days her body lay waiting for burial. Then Nayler visited her. Her name prompted him to lay his hand on her head and say, `Dorcas, arise.' And she stood up, and lived for years. There can be no doubt that this happened. It was widely discussed at the time.

Quakers claimed it as a miracle, and, though it took place in a public jail, the authorities could not deny it. Dorcas was examined before a Committee of the House of Commons. `He laid his hand on my head,' she said, `when I had been dead two days, and I arose and live, as thou seest.' `What witnesses hast thou for this?' She answered, `My mother.' Probably this was one of those cases of catalepsy, which even today are hard to distinguish from actual death. The prostrate persons seem unconscious, but they hear all that is said, and one way to rouse them is to call them by name, and tell them to do something.

These modern examples make it easier to accept the story of Peter's miracles. He came to Lydda, a village on the road which ran from Babylon to Egypt. Among Philip's converts was a paralysed man named Aeneas, who for eight years had been bedridden. The mention of his name and the length of his helplessness shows that this was no vague rumour. Peter visited him, and felt moved to say: `Jesus, the Messiah, heals you. Get up and make your bed.' He tried, and found he could obey.

Similar things still happen at times of religious fervour. In sceptical, nineteenth-century France the peasants of Ars near Lyons began to believe that their Cure was a Saint. The sick grew well when he blessed them. As the rumour spread, special buses brought the sick from other villages. The Cure loathed this notoriety. He declared that whatever cures took place had nothing to do with him. They must be the work of St. Philomena, to whom he had built a chapel. But the rush continued.

In France this was bound to be challenged. Militant Atheism could not allow the Church so great a triumph. Swarms of Parisian reporters descended on the little village, eager to detect imposture. Catholics rallied in defence. The result is a mass of evidence, doctors' certificates, declarations before mayors, affidavits by eye-witnesses, that leave no doubt that scores of people were restored to health.

Here is one typical story. Charles Blazy, a lad of nineteen, was brought to Ars with both legs paralysed. After Mass he suddenly found that he could stand. He carried his crutches over his head, and left them at the foot of the altar. He walked home fifteen miles, and ever after had perfect use of his legs.

In 1872 the Cure was given by Rome the title Venerable, in 1905 the title Blessed, in 1925 he was canonized, and acknowledged as a Saint. But by the rules of his Church each promotion had to be preceded by a searching investigation; but at each `Process' the advocatus diaboli failed to shake the evidence for the cures. If Blazy was healed, why not Aeneas?

But, to return to Peter. At Joppa, the ancient port of Jerusalem, one of Philip's converts fell ill. Her name was Gazelle: in Greek Dorcas and in Aramaic Tabitha. She was the local Lady Bountiful, whose gifts supported the poor, and whose needle supplied them with clothes. An urgent summons reached Peter, `Come without delay.' But Joppa was ten miles from Lydda, and when he arrived she was laid out in an upper room apparently dead. Widows surrounded him weeping and showing the clothes she had made for them-a vivid touch suggesting the report of an eye-witness. Tabithal The name reminded him of another scene he had witnessed-Jesus standing by a girl's bed, and saying, `Talitha, cumi.'

Some impulse urged him to call on Jeus to repeat what then had happened. He put the widows out of the room, and knelt by the bed in prayer. Then he said to the silent form, `Tabitha, cumi', and she opened her eyes and sat up, and he called in her friends and gave her back to them alive.

Perhaps she had never been technically dead; but the appearance of death was so convincing, that she would certainly have been buried, had not Peter recalled her to life. The Canterbury monk, who recorded the miracles at Becket's shrine, says of a woman who claimed that Becket had raised her from the dead, `Through sickness she had completely surceased-I do not say "deceased", though she says "deceased"-but she had lost all bodily feeling and seemed lifeless.' Perhaps we can say the same about Tabitha. Peter no doubt believed that Jesus had raised her from the dead in answer to his prayer. But his head was not turned. He showed no wish to win fame as a wonder-worker. Apart from Munchausenish yarns in the Apocryphal Acts, we never hear of his performing another miracle.

The attitude of thoughtful men to miracles has changed in recent years. Once they were considered the great bulwark of the Faith. These wonderful cures seemed clear proof that Christianity was true. Then they suddenly became a grave stumbling-block. A religion that told such incredible yarns became an object of ridicule. Today we have learnt to recognize that miracles are a fairly frequent occurrence, whenever religious fervour reaches a certain temperature. And this seems true, whatever the religion may be.

There is a mound in Egypt, where the sick have been healed for more than three thousand years. In pagan days it was a shrine of the goddess Miritskro, and hundreds of tablets are found in the sand inscribed with thanks for recovery. In Christian days a chapel was built there in honour of a local Saint, and the miracles continued. When the Moslems came, a holy man was buried at this spot, and the sick are still healed at his tomb. Once that hummock became associated with the thought of healing, any religion that could kindle enough faith could secure cures. So Peter's miracles were no proof that his theology was true; but they did prove that his teaching could inspire strong faith in God.

Saturday, 28 May 2016


Viewing the night sky has been particularly good on various days this week, and Jupiter through the Astronomy Club telescope is a sight to marvel at. Here is a poem reflecting an astronomical theme. It is a more pagan and neoplatonic version of Henry Lyte's “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven”.


Bright is Jupiter, the King of Heaven;
In the night sky, wonders bring
In my imagination be forgiven,
For thinking that the planets sing
Jupiter, Bringer of Joy, a Hymn
Of all our planets surely King

Planet omens for fortune’s favour
Or evil warning of distress.
To our short life span, seems forever
Ancients saw them come to bless
Venus, goddess, praise in Hymn
Shining white, and now fluoresce

Comets from deep space encircle us
Plumes of ions bright like snows
Omens of disaster for us
Times of enemies and foes
Darkest times, and darker Hymn
As through solar system flows

Mighty Aten, sun, adore him
But never see him face to face;
Sun and moon, a dance, a hymn
Dwellers all in time and space
In the cosmos all now swim
Dance of majesty and grace

Friday, 27 May 2016

The Parish Church of St John – Part 1

Here is part one of the forgotten piece by G.R. Balleine on the history of the Church, transcribed below. Balleine had a wonderful grasp of how to make historical narrative interesting, and peppers his history with interesting anecdotes.

The Parish Church of St John – Part 1 By G.R. Balleine

Four Chapels

In the early days there were four small chapels in the present parish of St John's, the Chapel of St Mary at Bonne Nuit, the Chapel of St Blaize on the Fief Chesnel, the Chapel attached to the Hougue Boete Manor, and the Chapel of St John.

By 1150 the last of these had been raised to the dignity of a Parish Church, for a charter belonging to the great Abbey of St Saveur le Vicomte in Normandy records that in that year a Guillaume de Vauville with the consent of his wife and his son gave to the Abbey the Church of St John in Jersey, with its tithes, and only Parish Churches received tithes. Another charter four years later confirms the fact that St John's had now a parish, for a Guillaume Suen transferred to the Abbey certain lands "in the parish of St John in Jersey".

In An Oak Wood

The Church at this time evidently stood in an oak wood, for ancient documents call it St John de Quercubus or St John de Caisnibus, which are old Latin for St John of the Oaks; but no official Register makes clear after which of the two St Johns the Church was named.

However, since in the middle ages the biggest Fair in the Island was held every year in this parish on St John the Baptist's Day, {June 24th) and since these Fairs were almost always held on the Patronal Festival of the Church, it is pretty safe to assume that this Church was dedicated in the name of the Baptist and not the Evangelist.

Early History

Like all our ancient Jersey churches St John's grew bit by bit. If you stand in the churchyard on the north side of the church, you see at once that the Chancel is a different building from the Nave; its roof is higher; its stones are rougher; and the corner buttress still remains, where the original building ended. This Chancel is the earliest little church. Stand beside the present pulpit, and look east, and you see the size of the Church as it was about 1100. Neither Nave had yet been built, nor the spire, nor the South Chancel, nor the Vestry. The broken holy-water stoup beside the entrance to the present Vestry, if it is in its original position, shows that the main door once stood there.

There is also, level with the north end of the altar, an interesting old Priest's Door, now blocked up. Over it is the date 1622 and the initials J. L. B. (possibly John Le Baily, for the Le Baillys were an important family in the parish of that period) but the door itself is obviously centuries older than that.

The inscription is only one example of the extraordinary craze that St John's officials seem to have had for carving their initials on their Church. Here we have J.L.B.; on the south-west gable is Thomas Lempriere. Two churchwardens have had their initials carved over the south door, two more have put theirs round a window, while two more have outdone all the rest by placing theirs on the church spire for all the world to see!

The XVth Century

As the population of the parish increased, the West Wall of the Chapel was pulled down, and the present Nave added. Then at the end of the fifteenth century came a great enlargement, the building of the large South Aisle and the Tower and Spire. In this case the name-carving craze helps us to date the extension, for Thomas Lempriere had his name carved with the nine millets that were his coat of arms and two tudor roses on the west gable, and he fixed another granite slab with his arms on the steeple.

Thomas became Seigneur of La Hougue Boete in 1 492 and Bailiff in 1 495, a Bailiff famous for his long controversy with Sir Hugh Vaughan, the Governor. He evidently must have played a prominent part in the enlargement of his parish church.

But from the new aisle the High Altar was invisible; so in those days, when the Mass was the Service that mattered, a second Altar must have been placed under the Tower, and the corbels which can still be seen one on each.side of the arch probably supported the beam on which stood the great Crucifix. The South Chancel was not built till the nineteenth century.

The perquage, the path by which criminals, who had taken sanctuary in the Church, were allowed to escape to the sea, is a curious one. Instead of taking a short cut directly to Bonne Nuit, it crossed the whole Island to St Aubin's Bay. A portion of it can be clearly traced in the garden of the house called Les Buttes. It then followed the course of the stream, till it joined the St Mary's perquage, near the Gigoulande Mill. Then it went on to St Peter's Valley as far as the. Tesson Mill, where the St Lawrence perquage joined it. The three united perquages then crossed the Goose Green Marsh, till they reached the sea between Beaumont and BelRoyal. This last section of the perquage has lately been beqeathed to the Societe Jersiaise to be preserved for all time as a public path.

One curious custom has survived at St John's which must have originated in pre-Reformation days, when on the morning of a funeral the Michael bell was rung to remind St Michael that his services would be required to escort the soul of the dead person to Paradise. At the present day, whenever there is a funeral in the parish, the church bell is always tolled at eight o'clock in the morning, but its purpose now is merely to remind those who mean to attend the funeral to put on their blacks.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Signs of the Times

“A transgender employee must be able to use the toilet or changing room of their expressed gender identity without fear of harassment. People should not be made to use unisex disabled toilets, unless they choose to do so, particularly as a temporary measure during the transition period.”
(The Law Society, Working with transgender employees)

There are a number of slightly differing reports on the case of Erin Bisson, some of which seem to give a misleading impression of what occurred.

BBC News reports that:

“A transgender woman has won her bid to have a ferry firm remove the words "ladies" and "gents" from its toilets. Erin Bisson, from Jersey, launched legal action for discrimination against Condor Ferries after a member of staff told her to use a disabled loo. She had also said the use of words rather than symbols on toilets amounted to indirect discrimination. The firm admitted discrimination at the island's Employment and Discrimination Tribunal on Friday.”

Now this story taken at face value suggest that a member of staff told her to used the disabled toilet when she was actually on board the vessel.

That in fact was not the case, as can be seen from the Sun which reports:

A FERRY company has been forced to change all its toilet door signs after staff told a transgender taxi driver to use the disabled loo. Erin Bisson, 40, launched a discrimination case after she was left “humiliated” by Condor Ferries. Erin had called the firm to check she could use the ladies’ before sailing from Jersey to Saint-Malo, northern France. But she recalled: “Condor said the only facilities I should be using are the disabled facilities.”

And the Daily Mail reports:

A transgender woman has won a landmark discrimination case forcing a ferry company to remove the words 'ladies' and 'gentlemen' from its toilets. Condor Ferries has become the first firm to change the gender specific signs on the doors after Erin Bisson proved she was 'humiliated' at being told to use the disabled toilets. Ms Bisson, formerly known as Robert until she identified herself as a woman, complained to the Jersey Employment and Discrimination Tribunal that she had been discriminated against after the operator banned her from using the 'ladies'. She argued the use of words rather than symbols on toilets amounted to indirect discrimination. It was the first decision of its kind taken since Jersey introduced gender discrimination laws in 2015 and Ms Bisson has now urged other companies to follow Condor's lead. Condor later admitted to the tribunal that there had been a 'non-intentional and non-malicious act of discrimination'.

The Mirror conflates the accounts, stating at first that it was an “incident on a sailing to St Malo”, then correcting that by giving the account that it was in fact a result of a telephone call before sailing:

A ferry firm has changed toilet door signs after a transgender passenger was ordered to use disabled loos instead of the ladies. Taxi driver Erin Bisson, 40, had a complaint of discrimination upheld by a tribunal . Ms Bisson, from Jersey, said she was “completely embarrassed” by the incident on a sailing to St Malo. Condor admitted to the tribunal that there had been a “non-intentional and non-malicious act of discrimination” towards Ms Bisson. The company will remove the words “ladies” and “gentlemen” on all toilet doors and use male and female gender symbols instead. Ms Bisson, 40, a taxi driver, from Jersey, said: “I’m transgender. Rather that just going to use the ladies toilets I phoned up Condor before I sailed to St Malo advising them as such. “They are the ones that own the toilets and decide who uses their facilities. I did not want to be humiliated. Condor said the only facility I should be using are the disabled facilities.”

Pink News reports much the same:

A trans woman who was told she wasn’t allowed to use the ‘Ladies’ toilet has won a case against Condor Ferries. The ferry company had faced action over its treatment of Jersey trans woman Erin Bisson from the company – which operates ferry services between the Channel Islands and Poole, Portsmouth, and France. Ms Bisson says she had asked the company which toilets she should use, and was advised “I should be using the disabled toilets”, which she says amounts to direct discrimination.

BBC Good Morning Jersey, reporting on the story at 6 am said that the call centre operative who spoke to Ms Bisson “suggested she used the disabled toilet if she didn’t know which one to use”. The word "suggested" gives a very different perspective than the word "told to" which is used throughout most of the other stories.

And later, Chris Stone talking to Ashlea Tracy at 7.08 am, expanded on this. He said that Ms Bisson phoned the call centre asking which toilet she should use as a transgender individual. And he reported that “the lady on customer service said that she would have to check and call her back. But in the course of that conversation the operator suggested that she should perhaps use the disabled toilet instead.

Now this puts a very different slant on the story. It contradicts the statement that Ms Bisson is reported as saying that “Condor said the only facilities I should be using are the disabled facilities.”, or the report that “the operator banned her from using the 'ladies', and as Guernsey Press reports it, “the operator said that she would have to use the disabled toilets, rather than the ladies.”

There is a whole world of difference between that and the BBC report by Chris Stone that “suggested that she should perhaps use the disabled toilet instead”

The BBC report on Good Morning Jersey is in fact the only one to give this. In context it makes sense, it was a stop-gap solution which came up in conversation. Why, after all, would the operator say she would have to find out and call Ms Bisson back if she was then going to lay down the law on the matter?

Clearly the reporting in the national media has been sloppy, and slanted to portray Condor in the worst possible light, as a dinosaur whose staff have entirely the wrong attitude. They don’t mention the whole exchange, and  do not mention the operator saying she would have to find out and ring her back, or the tentative nature of the suggestion “should perhaps use the disabled toilet instead”

One can only speculate on why the operator then made the gaff which caused the claim of direct discrimination, but I wonder why the phone call was not terminated at that point. Indeed, Chris Stone reports that the conversation continued, and that tentative suggestion was made during the course of that continuation.

Now I am sure Condor, like most business of that kind, tell callers that “calls may be recorded for monitoring and training purposes”. Somewhere there is probably an exact recording of that exchange, and it would be interesting to read a transcript, and see how the conversation took place.

According to Lamda Legal: “A transgender person should use the restroom that corresponds to his or her gender identity”, and not, therefore, their initial biological identity.

There are certainly serious issues at stake. Only last month, the Mail reported that “A petition to boycott Target has gathered more than half a million signatures after the company announced that it would allow transgender people to use their preferred bathrooms in its stores last week.”

It also noted that:

“Target's decision to let transgender customers and staff follows a wave of anti-transgender sentiment that has swept America in the past year. The most notable example is North Carolina's decision to pass its House Bill 2, which - among other things - restricts bathroom usage in certain spaces, including government buildings, to a person's biological sex.”

And eleven states have filed a lawsuit against Barack Obama's administration, challenging the government's directive that transgender individuals should be permitted to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

All this is, however, a far cry from a private telephone call in which a tentative suggestion was made as a stop-gap.

Clearly it did breach the law, and was an act of direct discrimination, but equally, most of the media reporting does not appear to be accurate if compared with the BBC live report (available on “listen again”), and this only shows how easy it is to get a very different slant on what may have happened.

If the reports quoting Erin Bisson are correct, she appears to be spinning the story to put Condor in the worst possible light. The alternative is that the reporting by Chris Stone on BBC radio Jersey’s Good Morning programme which outlined the tentative nature of the suggestion was inaccurate. Unless a transcript of the original conversation is possible, we shall never know.

Looking at this as a historical study, it is not my job to take sides, but simply to put the contradiction in the telling of the story before the reader.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Guest Post: Sarah Ferguson on Scrutiny and the Finance Centre

I see that finally the States of Jersey Development Company have backed down as are letting Scrutiny view all relevant documents, but this sorry saga in which taxpayers money has drained away in the course of the dispute to various lawyers, raises the issue of just how accountable these new States quangos are.

In that respect the SOJDC is correct: protocols need to be in place so this does not happen again. Indeed a formalised version of the accepted conditions in this case would surely suffice and be easy to implement. It is not right especially that quangoes which were once States Departments should suddenly be able to be unaccountable.

This subject was the subject of a piece in the JEP by Sarah Ferguson, which apparently was slightly edited in the paper, so here is the complete version from Facebook.

Sarah Ferguson on Scrutiny and the Finance Centre

As the Bard almost says “The officers doth protest too much methinks”! The ongoing standoff we have watched between the States of Jersey Development Company and the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel does give rise to public suspicions about the complexity of the information being withheld.

It was stipulated in the original propositions setting up SoJDC that the company would be subject to review by the Public Accounts Committee and by Scrutiny. Human nature being what it is, is it really surprising that the longer an organisation withholds information, the greater the concern expressed by the public?

It is inconceivable that the Scrutiny Panel could have a sensible discussion with their advisors if the advisors cannot explain the basis for their thinking and the evidence to support it. SoJDC have not noted that there have never been any leaks of information from the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel and appear to have overlooked the statutory requirement that both the Public Accounts Committee and Scrutiny are entitled to review the company. The followup question is to whom does the company think it is accountable? Scrutiny and the Public Accounts Committee represent the taxpayers – the shareholders.

In most countries a summons to provide information to and to appear before a parliamentary Committee is a three line whip. There may be a reluctance if there may be embarrassment. Classic examples are HBOS and RBS but even these organisations produced the required information.

It is conceivable that if SoJDC had been less secretive and dealt with the enquiry swiftly when first asked then this would have removed the uncertainty which it is maintained that prospective clients felt. Certainly the delays have extended the uncertainty. Co-operation at an early stage would also have reduced the interest which would be shown in the Scrutiny report.

In the meantime we now have a situation where the prospects of Orders of Justice are flying all over the place and the public are totally confused. The second planning application for the latest building with the boundary moved was an interesting move but has it really improved the quality of the arguments?

The underlying question is whether government should get directly involved with property development and carry the risk? Is this an area where taxpayers’ money should be utilised? Originally there was the promise of a loan from the currency fund. Security on the loans for construction will presumably be on the assets of SoJDC - assets belonging to the shareholder, the taxpayer.

It was intended that the development of the Waterfront masterplan would provide an attractive mixed use area for work, rest and play, with an income which would provide funds to regenerate other parts of St Helier. We started on this 8 years ago and we are still waiting.