Last week, Mrs Stodge and I visited the delightful island of Jersey for a much-needed break from the day-to-day routine. First thing to say is that on a fine late spring day, Jersey is not without its attractions but it's emphatically not like the rest of Britain.
First thing, it and the rest of the Channel Islands are not part of the United Kingdom. They are Crown dependencies - the islands became part of the Duchy of Normandy in 936AD, one hundred and thirty years before the Norman Conquest. Throughout the tumult and turmoil of the last thousand years, they have (mostly) remained with the rest of Britain with the notable exception of 1940-45 when the islands were occupied by the Germans.
They have their own money and their own legislative fora - the States on both Guernsey and Jersey. The laws are different - for example, Sunday opening is almost unknown even in St Helier and while the rest of Britain was agonising over the abortion time limit, Jersey has long worked a 12-week limit (later abortions in very exceptional circumstances). As I've seen in Switzerland, fiscal comfort is often accompanied by cultural conservatism.
That's not to say it's paradise - anti-social behaviour is a growing problem (we heard a report of a large group of youths drinking in the Winston Churchill Memorial park at St Aubin and the sense of shock in the news reporter's voice when he said that most of the youths claimed they had got the alcohol from their parents was palpable) while planning remains contentious as does housing and employment. Many of those who work on Jersey cannot afford to live on Jersey and are based over in France while anyone coming over to occupy a public-sector job such as teaching or nursing can only stay for five years before having to leave.
Petrol is £1.06 a litre but there is no road tax. This is less surprising given the very high proportion of hire cars on the island but it was a delight to go to a garage and have an attendant put the petrol in the tank - that hasn't happened to me in Britain for at least twenty-five years.
All in all, a delightful place which makes full use of its unique taxational status but while it reminded me of rural Surrey in some ways it IS different and the French influence is strong. The union flag is outnumbered by the Jersey flag and I suspect deep down there is less residual loyalty to Britain or France any more. Indeed, the island is possibly more "European" than any other part of Britain.
Final comment - the people were very friendly and seemed much less stressed about life than is the case in London but when the weather is good over there, who can blame them ?