Saturday, 2 January 2010

Obituary: Madame Fantine de la Vallee

I had a pleasant walk over the holidays around Queen's Valley reservoir, and the sun was shining, the wind had died down, and it was one of the warmer December days. It is an enjoyable walk to make, and I have no regrets that the valley was flooded.

When the valley was originally flooded, the tourism boom was still doing well, and on hot summers, with too little rainfall, there was always a risk of drought. I even remember the odd time when water restrictions were in place, and the water was being cut off for a time each day. It was the summer months which always had the most impact, with an extra 30% of cars (often mostly hire cars) on island roads, and the demand for water for hotels and guest houses. The desalination plant was one solution to help reduce the impact, but it was - and is - costly to run, and the president of the Public Services committee marshaled arguments in favour of an extra reservoir, large enough for the future.

Recently, however, drought conditions - as this year - have meant there is a need for the desalination plant to be turned on. Now tourism has declined massively, with most hotels and guest houses of the 1980s being converted into flats or pulled down and replaced with flats for the local population. The impact of tourism is negligible, and if we now find the risk of water shortage coming close, it is because our population has grown to the point where the increase, year round, has made up for the reduction in tourists. In short, we are nearing the end of our limits for growth, and as I calculated earlier in this blog, once the population gets to 100,000 (the supposed ideal limit), we will be likely to need the plant turned on each year without fail. It is time that we recognised that the infrastructure - water, electricity, sewage disposal - all have limits, and we cannot just add to the population and leave this for future generations to content with. It is about time our politicians had the maturity to see the long term.

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In the meantime, here is a satire I wrote back in the 1980s for the magazine "Thinks!", on the flooding of Queen's Valley. At the time, "Les Miserables" was enjoying particular success as a West End musical, so it was appropriate to spoof that in my article.

As a fun competition, can anyone tell me the real name of Mr Thenardier?

by Monsieur J. Valjean
It is with sadness that I announce the death of Madame Fantine de la Vallee.

She was one of the oldest French-speaking Inhabitants of Jersey and was well-known to Members of Mensa in Jersey for her great simplicity and charm. In her youth, she was quiet and retiring, almost something of a recluse, although, as I can testify, those who took the trouble to visit her home in St. Saviour will never forget how she was always welcoming, whether you were a friend or stranger.

So it was something of a surprise to her friends when, late in life, she took -to the stage and played what must be a unique part in the annals of drama. As "Queenie", she caught the attention and gained the affection of many Islanders. Unhappily her career as an actress, although it brought to light her true brilliance, was short lived. She came to a conflict of interests with her theatre manager, Mr Thenardier, part of which concerned her finances. He determined -that she would never be seen on stage again and, in my opinion, arrogantly refused to reconsider this decision, even after a last minute petition by her many loyal fans.

It will be remembered that "Theatre Review", under the editorial guidance of Mr. Pierre Javert strongly supported Mr. Thenardier's argument of finances. "How long," said the Journal, "can we tolerate Fantine de la Vallee, and the rising costs that she engenders?"

After this, "Queenie" left the stage and her tragic death by drowning followed in the same year. It is fitting we mourn her passing, and with her the passing of an age. There will never be another "Queenie".

1 comment:

mike freeman said...

you're wrong you know-although its arguable I recall that the decline in tourist numbers was already apparent when the debate was going on -in fact the evidence of decline was used to refute some of the projections of water need.