Guernsey Press

Change is as good as a rest

Dealing with change can be tough, but it is also necessary, says Hayley North


AS A person who is autistic, I sympathise with Horace Camp’s column last Friday. He doesn’t want anything to change in Guernsey but will reluctantly tolerate it, as long as he is left well alone to do as he pleases within his own nostalgic world of Guernsey past.

Change can be deeply problematic for me too.

Never mind building on green fields or moving a school – a restaurant changing up their menu can have my nerves in tatters and ruin a family meal. My entire day can be derailed by a missing egg mayonnaise sandwich. Predictability is my comfort zone and I spend hours each week trying to anticipate what might happen in so many different scenarios, so that I can avoid anything unexpected.

This rigid approach is of course inherently flawed.

I remember when I bought my first home about 20 years ago and showed my mum a detailed Gantt chart for the works that needed to be done – yes, I am that child. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is a chart often used in project management to keep track of different work streams that might overlap. It uses horizontal lines to measure progress. My chart showed all the different things to be done and by whom they needed to be done. It then showed clearly when the would be completed and which works depended on someone else. I could not lay the new floors until the walls had been painted and we could not paint the walls until the electrician had been to remove the wall lights, for example. We couldn’t do any of this until the damp-proof membrane had been put in and the plaster dried out.

My mum took one look at the chart and laughed out loud. Mortified, as I was well aware it was a good chart, I asked her what was so funny. For me it was a masterpiece of simple planning. I had allocated precisely the amount of time needed for each task and overlapped tasks as appropriate. What could possibly be so amusing, I pondered. She calmly explained that one or more of these people would be late, work would over-run and the schedule would be out of sync before I knew it. She wasn’t being mean, she just wanted me to manage my expectations in a way that reflected the real world rather than the world I would have liked to live in. She was, of course, correct and the project was much more hassle and took way longer than planned but we did get there in the end, albeit with a few edits to my beloved chart.

I still plan in the same way but have dialled down my ambition a few notches to add in more contingency time into everything I organise. However, I am always disappointed when a plan changes and I have to re-jig it all. You can only imagine how I try to cope with bad weather and travel to and from the island.

I accept who I am now and how I need to operate and rely on the kindness of others to help me manage unexpected events and try to mitigate as much drama as possible. As evidenced by the events hosted last week for Autism Awareness Week, our little island does a great job of adapting to individual needs and some of the events were inspired. The escalator and lift event at Creaseys being my personal favourite (and I’ll be angling for an invite next year). This is the magic of living in a small place with a kind heart.

It is not just the autistic community who finds unpredictability and change tough, though. Horace represents many islanders, for example, who remember a very different Guernsey and a simpler way of life and, ideally, they would all like to go back in time to this version of the Bailiwick.

The thing is we all have a time we remember fondly and would love to return to. It is the 1980s for me, when Guernsey was buzzing with tourists and I could spend my summer holiday days taking the boat to Fermain and my evenings eating scampi and chips washed down with a glass of ‘Appletise’ (sic) in the oh-so-fashionable Partners restaurant in Town. We will never all agree on which period was the best.

I can imagine the squabbles alongside a new time machine installed in Market Square in a few hundred years’ time as islanders jostle to pick their favourite decade or century. An impossible task and again an inherently flawed plan. The past might look rosy from this distance but we are strategically forgetting the challenges of the time that our memories have helpfully hidden from view.

Our favourite moments in time and our sense of security are special to us and our close friends and family. They often mean little to anyone else.

It is a natural part of life that, as we get older, we start to resist change. Some changes can be entertaining, a little new development here and there can be energising. New family members can liven up the family dynamic and prevent it from becoming stale and new homes or jobs can encourage our creativity. However, try to take away our favourite restaurant, change the way we pay a bill or remove our favourite parking space and we’re not quite so keen.

The older we get, the less we tend to favour any kind of disruption to our regular routine and the more we romanticise the past. There are many good types of change, however, that we would be wise not to resist, such as change that might mean young people can afford homes here. Change that might enable us to balance the books in healthcare and education. Change that might protect more vulnerable parts of the island from rising sea levels and other natural risks. Change that might introduce us to things we never knew we wanted.

My brain is naturally wired to find change tough and to approach it with caution, yet I can see that change cannot happen in a vacuum. I cannot simply opt out while the world around me changes and neither can you.

We all need to be on board to make change worthwhile and effective. As painful as it might be to experience change when you are very happy as you are, it might just be the best thing that ever happened to you.