The hammer falls on Island traditions

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The first sad farewell of 2009 was when Woolies closed its doors, leaving a big hole in the centre of town and Islanders’ hearts. Then the Forum – or as it will always be known, the Odeon – closed its doors for the final time. In the same week, Maillard’s auctioneers announced that they were going, going soon to be gone. Three Island institutions lost in the blink of a moist eye and the year is just three weeks old.

Woolies was an international household name and one of the first examples of the domineering American global conglomerates that spread their influence far and wide, but nonetheless a mainstay of retail life for generations of Islanders. There is no way that the high-street clones that make King and Queen Streets identical to shopping centres the length and breadth of the British Isles, and most of the northern hemisphere, will ever gain the same degree of affection from shoppers. If any of the many clothes, cards and shoe shops closed, apart from feeling sympathy for their staff, would the average Jersey shopper really care?

The demise of the old Odeon closed a happy chapter in Island life. True film fans never got used to Kevin Lewis’s choice of name for his community cinema. The Forum was reduced to dust many moons ago, and when Deputy Lewis took over the former Odeon he resurrected the old name.

Until the 1970s, cinemas thrived in Jersey, as they did worldwide. The video revolution was a massive blow from which cinemas never really recovered but the fate of the Island’s picture houses was finally sealed when the decision was made to include a multiplex in the first phase of the Waterfront development.

Who on earth ever came up with that idea is to blame for the situation we find ourselves in today, with a soulless multiplex of cavernous aircraft hangar proportions, isolated from the heart of the town. Thank heaven for the Arts Centre, which can now lay claim to the status of the town’s cinema – and in true art house fashion – and the Jersey Film Society, 61 years old and still showing quality independent films that a multiplex never would dream of scheduling in a hundred thousand screenings.

Ahh, the benefit of hindsight! If, as originally mooted, the Odeon had moved a half mile or so closer to the sea, there in no doubt in my mind that the Island would still have a commercial cinema in the heart of St Helier.

The Odeon is a listed building but that is unlikely to save it when some grandiose redevelopment plans are submitted to Planning. Notwithstanding its architectural merits, the first Odeon built post-Second World War has, like Woolies, a special place in Islanders’ hearts. The Forum and the unique West’s Cinema – a wonderful example of fanciful theatre design – were both demolished to make way for hideous modern office developments.

We have a special affection for cinemas, and the movies still play an important part in popular culture, because they are the stuff of our dreams. The escapism of the silver screen has as much relevance today, even with so many diversions and choices of home entertainment, as when a visit to the ‘pictures’ was the highlight of the week or a special treat.

Like the picture house of the same name in that delightful Italian film Cinema Paradiso, it was places such as the Odeon, the Forum and West’s where Islanders made friendships, sealed romances in the back row or simply escaped for a couple of hours from their everyday existences. Who could forget the joy of Saturday morning and school holiday screenings, where queues stretched around the block and that most wonderful of cinema managers, Tony Moneypenny, would stop the film, and warn we unruly kids that he would not hesitate to throw us out unless we behaved. Ahh, those were the days.

My nostalgia for the silver screen also extends to the quirkier aspects of life, such as a very eccentric gathering of country types I happened upon on a sunny September afternoon a couple of years ago in a Cornish rural backwater. On that occasion in St Mawgan, a field was packed with every kind of veteran rural vehicle that had ever been made including a bright red and very shiny Porsche tractor! I still wonder what its top speed was.

That event reminded me so of our very own, dear and totally eccentric Glencoe auctions. It is nigh on impossible to describe a Glencoe auction – where you could find anything from soft-top MGs to antique dining tables and wetsuits.

What makes a Glencoe sale special is that it retains an essence of Jersey that is fast disappearing. For a few hours on a Wednesday, the clock is turned back to gentler times before this Island sold its soul to international finance and the price of spuds and outdoor toms mattered more than the Footsie.

I have frequented Glencoe auctions since I was a child. When I take a holiday ‘at home’ I try to ensure that it coincides with the fortnightly sale. You don’t have to like auctions to enjoy Glencoe because it is more than a sale, it is one of the last places on this little rock where you can rub shoulders with genuine Jersey characters, some of whom only go to town once a week, if that.

Until 2006, the Glencoe auction ground was synonymous with Maillard’s auctioneers and when the business moved to St Mary I feared that something very special to Island life would be lost. But the sales continued under a new auctioneer’s hammer. Now Maillard’s have announced that the regular auctions at their new sales rooms in St Mary will cease, blaming the credit crunch, online sales and the dreaded GST.

This old Jersey firm will, nonetheless, continue with occasional specialist sales and the other aspects of its business. That is good news because there aren’t many of that kind left.

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