If you look closely at the door of the States of Jersey Building Members Entrance you’ll find a tiny pin-hole. I made that hole on Friday night, the 28th September 2012, after a gig with my band – Badlabecques - in the Royal Square… Allow me to explain.
The gig was our album launch – the world’s first pop-folk album sung entirely in the indigenous language of Jersey, Jèrriais, which is a dialect of Norman-French that evolved in the period after the Viking conquests of modern day Normandy and beyond.
Jèrriais is now an endangered language, and what used to be the everyday mother-tongue of the whole island is currently only spoken by less than 3% of the population. The decline in the use and influence of Jèrriais over last 200 or so years has been partly a by-product of an increasingly Anglicised commercial culture, and partly by design – by the early 1900’s Jèrriais was largely seen as the peasants language – for fishermen and farmers, irrelevant to the educated elite who dealt in English and French. It was literally beaten out of school children who were told that it would ruin their ‘proper’ French. My Gran, who spoke only French and Jèrriais until she went to school, soon learned English.
But despite this (and the intervening Nazi occupation during World War II) Jèrriais has survived, thanks in no small part to the efforts of a dedicated few who understood its historical and cultural importance, literary heritage, and community value; and thankfully now it is actually being taught in Jersey schools in the hopes of fostering a new generation of Jèrriais speakers that can at least appreciate something of that unique value, even if they don’t end up speaking the language fluently. There are some great Jèrriais poets – From Wace ‘the father of Jèrriais’, to A.A. Le Gros, and E.J. Luce amongst others. As a bouôn Jèrriais myself it is part of who I am, my heritage, my story.
Earlier this year I was commissioned by L’Office Du Jèrriais to set six Jèrriais songs to more contemporary arrangements, to be used in the schools programme. Having recently returned to the island I was already interested in researching traditional Jèrriais folk songs so I was pleased to have a good excuse to get involved. Geraint Jennings from L’Office Du Jèrriais showed me the songs and taught me how to sing in an accent approaching authentic... I knocked up some demos and ended up getting booked to play at Jersey’s ‘Folklore Festival’, which also saw appearances from Van Morrison and John Cooper Clarke. So I needed a band, and thus, with a little help from my friends, Badlabecques was born.
To cut a long story short, we decided to try and make a full album, got some funding (from L’Office Du Jèrriais, The Don Balleine Trust, L'Assembliee d'Jerriais, The Jersey Arts Trust, Le Congrès des Parlers Normands et Jèrriais, and individual donations), hit the studio, and ‘Hèque Badlabecques’ is the somewhat quirky but fun and occasionally beautiful result.
As I’ve been learning Jèrriais and discovering my own heritage, it has been my pleasure and privilege to lead the band and help create this unique cultural project, the first ‘pop’ album in Jèrriais, and a little milestone in the story of Jersey.
I hope that the popularity of this unique group and the music will help contribute in a small but significant way to the awareness and appreciation of Jèrriais, as well as the particular songs in our repertoire, and the wider social and cultural life of this beautiful island.
But Friday night also commemorated the courageous act of a few hundred Jèrriais speaking peasants on the 28th September 1769, known as the ‘Corn Riot’ or ‘Reform Day’. Suffering poverty and exploitation under the distinctly undemocratic dictatorship of one Charles Lemprière and his cronies, desperate and unable to pay rents due on the 29th September, a large group of “artisans, day-labourers, and other common people” stormed the Royal Court (which at that time basically wrote the law, as well as ‘applied’ it), and demanded reforms, essentially for a fairer and more democratic society. Of course, utopia did not arrive overnight, but important changes (not least a separate law-making chamber) did come about in the struggles that followed. A significant date then, which should be celebrated – an ideal day to launch our album of pop songs in the original “people’s language” - Jèrriais.
Now according to the historians, the 28th September rebels read out a list of demands for policy changes, many of which eventually happened. So, in keeping with the spirit of the day, and as a celebration of the level of democracy and freedom we have today - along with a desire to look forwards - we decided to have a ‘Reform Day People’s Policies’ box, more or less in the style of Mark Thomas’ ‘People’s Manifesto’. The audience put forward their own ideas for reform, humorous or otherwise, and we read a few out, putting the ‘vote’ to the audience.
We had some wide-ranging policy suggestions, from electoral reform to free cider and bean crock (see below for details), some complementary, some conflicting, some funny, some poignant, all interesting; and in the name of democracy and freedom, I sellotaped them all together and pinned them to the door of the States Assembly building.
The thing is, despite a fair few changes in Jersey in the last 250 years, few could deny that our democracy, economy, and community is once again in desperate need of reform. We have a ‘government’ totally captured by a finance industry that is at best morally dubious and at worst deeply corrupt. The economy is faultering, unemployment continues to be high especially amongst young people, whilst the minimum wage is (in real terms, allowing for the high cost of living) amongst the lowest in Europe, rents are high and the average price of a family home in 2012 is still around 15 times the average wage. Voter turnout is consistently poor from an electorate that is disenfranchised, disaffected and largely kept ignorant by design. The actual voting system is completely wonky, and the results hopelessly undemocratic and balanced in favour of the wealthy by virtue of where they live. Most working people just don’t believe the government represents their interests, that engagement is futile and dissent to be feared. An increasingly two-tier society has seen the tax burden shifted onto the poorer end whilst the ruling hegemony enjoy their ‘haven’. And I haven’t even started on the really dark stuff…
So it was a double privilege to stand on that little stage on Friday night and sing some simple folk songs in Jèrriais, the people’s language, reading out the ‘people’s policies’ in front of the States building and Royal Court.
For me, that little pin-hole in the Members Entrance of the States of Jersey Building represents a tiny dent in the well-oiled propaganda machine of the status quo, and perhaps a prick of the conscience of a greedy and guilty elite that haven’t really changed their spots since 1769.
All rise for the toast – “La libèrté, la démocratie!”
The People’s Policies, Royal Square, 28th September 2012
In no particular order:
1. Every year on the 28th September to celebrate Jersey Reform Day there should be free bean crock and cider given out in the Royal Square!
2. More public holidays are needed.
3. Introduce a progressive tax system that doesn’t penalise the poor.
4. Low tax so there’s more money to spend on my son.
5. We need more cake!
6. The States of Jersey should buy Plemont ex-holiday campsite for the people of Jersey.
7. STOP BEING OPPRESSIVE AND DISTANT FROM POPULATION
8. Live music in Royal Square every weekend during the summer – good for tourists and locals!
9. MORE FUNDING FOR THE ARTS!
10. Adopt Human Rights legislation especially for children. Walls and trees have more rights at the moment.
11. Free Jèrriais lessons for all Jersey residents!
12. Inject member[s] of the electoral commission with truth serum to tell us how we can have a genuine democracy and get a government that really represents the interests of all the people of Jersey.
13. Better servi[c]e for medication. And stop people littering. Be eco-friendly.
14. States members live in States housing and on the minimum wage for a year and see if we get any improvement in States housing and increasing the minimum wage.
15. Have more live acts like the great Badlabe[c]ques in the Royal Square every Friday. ☺
16. Free public transport for all.
17. Lower private school subsidiaries [sic] ! (For further research/information I’d recommend reading the Political Ponderings of Sam Mezec!) google it.
18. LESS CARS! Please.
19. Could people who donate memorial benches/seats not not [sic] inscription plaques. Anonimity [sic] would be best. It’s getting very morbid and makes people SAD!
20. LEGALISATION AND TAXATION OF MARIJUANA!
21. Cars – Nationalise all cars worth over £80,000 – the owners to drive you for free.
22. A more transparent, less secretive government.
23. Make Jersey more secular. Enough of fairy tales!
24. Free chocolate for all women once a month!
25. Once a year States members, lawyers, and head[s] of banks must endure one hour of the sticks in the Royal Square for us peasants to pelt with vegetables because even if we can’t prove they’ve been naughty… they probably have.