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“She usually gets in at ten to ten,” the radio chap said when I asked about Jenny Kendall-Tobias.

Cripes, that was an hour away. But he kindly made me a cup of tea, which I sipped while I waited. I was floating about two feet above the ground. Here I was, not only in Guernsey in the Channel Islands, but in the studios of BBC Radio Guernsey. For nearly six months I’d been listening on the Internet to Jenny’s “Studio One” show, ever since she interviewed Steve “Netstation” Lucas, BookCrossing’s answer to Tom Cruise.

I’d been struck by her enthusiasm, her ready humour, and the ease with which she gained a rapport with her guests. You could just hear the smile in her voice.

I kept tuning in and soon her Guernsey mid-morning show became my Canberra late-evening entertainment. I gave the local radio stations a miss – they were all fluff and commercial twaddle – but Guernsey came alive for me. Out of the small community Jenny managed to find some truly fascinating characters, and I’d find myself sighing each night at midnight as she signed off with her trademark “à la perchoine”, native Guernsey for “later, darling”.

And so, when it came time to book my round the world trip to the Toronto BookCrossing convention, it was a foregone conclusion that I include Guernsey in my itinerary. I wanted to see for myself this wonderful, historic, picturesque and quirky island community.

And the moment in France when my hire car’s radio picked up the distant signal of BBC Radio Guernsey – a fair dinkum radio signal, and not just an Internet podcast – why, but I started smiling for joy and as I write these words a day and a half later, I haven’t stopped yet.

And here she was rushing in the door at five to ten for a ten o’clock show.

“Miss, miss? I’ve got Tim-tams!”

That stopped her.

And before I knew it I was sitting in Studio One itself while Jenny fiddled with microphones and buttons, making last minute consultations with assistants in the outer office, sorting out the first songs and first guests.

The cheerful winners of a local dance competition smiled as they sat down and it just got better from there. What an atmosphere – Studio One in real life was as much fun as on the air.

As I found out when Jenny put me in front of a microphone and made me sip BBC tea through a Tim Tam, asked me about BookCrossing and Australian culture. And the emails came rolling in – Jenny has fans all over the world.

One of Jenny’s guests was an archaeologist specializing in Roman pottery. “Just chip in,” she urged me, and I did from time to time.

But the real surprise came when she suggested he lead a tour through the centre of town that afternoon and invited her listeners to join in. This was broadcasting by the seat of the pants!

Before I knew it the show was in its final moments and I sighed afresh as she smiled “à la perchoine” into the microphone. I was rapt.

More conferences, the morrow’s show was sketched in, and here I was in her car – the famous Skoda named “Bolly” by the fans – as we investigated Guernsey bureaucracy and gathered story ideas.

A quick lunch, a lot of it spent on the phone, and then she led me to St Peter Port’s tiny town square, where a dozen Studio One fans were waiting for the impromptu “Roamin’ through Roman Guernsey” tour. Jenny was lugging a heavy microphone/recorder combo, keeping an eye on sound and battery levels as she shot questions at the expert and manoeuvered her audience around.

Me, I lapped it up. I’ll happily spend all day with my nose in a history book. This was pure gold.

Afterwards I snaffled a quarter hour of freebie internet in the library – a library, according to a plaque on the wall, that was well established a year before the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay.

Afternoon tea – a delayed afternoon tea getting on for five o’clock - was spent with a photographer, planning publicity shots for the evening’s work. Her phone rarely gave her five minutes’ peace at a time, and we were joined from time to time by politicians and the leaders of charity groups, for whom Jenny puts in a lot of unpaid work.

And then in a rushed half hour, darling Jenny managed to give me a quick tour of the island – narrow roads, fabulous views, unique architecture, the works, before we pulled up outside the theatre where she was playing multiple roles in a musical. Tonight was the dress rehearsal and the island television station was on hand with a crew to record highlights.

Jenny, big tall and beautiful Jenny, had been given a costume that was sequined, stunning and skimpy. “Honestly, a t-shirt is longer!” she’d said earlier when describing it, but when she came down the stairs in a number entitled “Beautiful Girls”, it was perfect. Coupled with a tall feathered head dress and her tail covered in blue feathers, she positively strutted around the stage.

The TV camera and the stills photographer aimed their huge equipment around the set, while I snapped off a few shots with my rather more dinky camera gear.

Time and again the number went through “one more time, girls” and I could see the standard improving. This was their first time in full dress, with stage, lighting and choreography still being tinkered with. For my part, I thought that for an amateur group, they looked pretty darn professional. With another five days until opening night, the thing should be marvelous.

As the rehearsal came to a close, getting on for eleven at night, the cast sat on the edge of the stage while the director gave a quick critique. Jenny was easing off her shoes - “one size too small,” she later commented – and I felt for her, having to spend all night dancing in uncomfortable footwear after putting in a full day’s work.

And still later, the proceedings wrapped up and she drove me back to my hotel, dropping me off outside with the lights of the harbour front spread out behind me like a string of jewels.

I thanked her for a magic day and wished her goodnight, but as her tail-lights vanished down one of St Peter Port’s narrow lights, my wits returned, and I said to the empty night air the words I should have said: “à la perchoine, Jenny!”
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Just a quick note. I'm using an internet terminal in the Guill-Alles Library in St Peter Port in Guernsey. I'm meeting Jenny Kendall-Tobias for coffee in a few minutes.

I have had an absolutely amazing time this morning, being a guest on Jenny's show for three hours, having lunch with her, walking around the centre of town with a visiting scholar on Roman antquities, and I'm invited to her rehearsal tonight for a dance routine.

She is just as much fun in real life as on the radio. It was great to hear my BookCrossing buddies listening in - thanks one and all!

And I've got a fresh stock of BBC Radio Guernsey stickers and heheheheheh, a mug in Guernsey French!

Off tomorrow for Jersey airport, where I'm hoping I can get some Internet.


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September 2010

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