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News  |  Jul 9th 2010

Viaer Marchi visitor dies from Guernsey overdose


Police were yesterday questioning the organisers of this year’s Viaer Marchi after a 21 year old man from Norwich died in hospital following a three hour Guernsey binge.

Experts in Sarniarcotics believe that Mr Luke Spurn had become addicted to Guernsey since he began visiting the Island in 2006.

The whey-faced non-local was found near Sausmarez Park at 9pm on Monday evening. He was lying face down in a douit wearing a distinctive red and white neckerchief, a traditional oiled wool pullover and a tattered wrap covered with tar from Grandes Rocques.

An autopsy revealed that his stomach contained seven pints of bean jar, ten pints of Breda and a chancre.

“He’d plan his holidays around major cultural events like the Blanchelande Book Fair”


The Police did not release details of the death until Mr Spurn’s parents had identified the body. Reports suggest that they were able to recognize their son by his distinctive La Société Guernesiaise tattoo and his lobster-red West Coast tan.

Local wanderer Val Hernia, who found the body behind a hedge veg stall, said that Mr Spurn was clutching a scrap of the paper torn from a Perry’s Guide. “On one side he’d scribbled down details of the next ormering tide,” said Miss Hernia, “on the other he’d simply written, ‘À la perchoine!’

Police have refused to comment on speculation that Mr Spurn, who had travelled to the Island especially to attend Monday’s festival, was planning to commit suicide.

Details of Mr Spurn’s addiction to Guernsey (street name: ‘Donkey’) are only now beginning to emerge. One hotelier said that Mr Spurn visited the Island at least 16 times a year. “He’d plan his holidays around major cultural events like the Blanchelande Book Fair, the Harbour Carnival and the Torteval Scarecrow Walk.”

Mr Spurn’s mother said that her son’s love of Guernsey could be traced back to 2001, when he saw a repeat of the Bergerac episode “Pour Relation” (in which Jim travels to Guernsey to hunt down his cousin, a rapacious sexual predator whose behaviour Jim has tolerated for years but who finally crosses the line when he starts making disparaging remarks about Jersey).

“After that episode he just became obsessed with the Guernsey way of life,” said Mrs Spurn. “The low rate of taxation, the system of consensus government, the cute triangle shape… he couldn’t get enough. Later that year we saw that Aurigny were doing a special deal on day returns. It was supposed to be a fun day out.

“Looking back, it was the very worst thing we could have done. The moment he saw his first sea-green pound note his pupils began to dilate and he started sweating.”

“He started off with the small stuff first – a bit of Jethou, some Herm.”


Mrs Spurn regrets not picking up on the warning signs. “He started off with the small stuff first – a bit of Jethou, some Herm. He dabbled. Then he took to Sark in a big way, disappearing into his room to read Mr Pye for hours on end. I tried to wean him off, taking him to UK-only chain stores, but that just seemed to make it worse.

“Once we spent the day at Bluewater retail complex off the M25 and he seemed to quite like it. But later that night I found him at the computer reading about Alderney Week and eating a tomato.”

Mrs Spurn said she took a gamble and paid for him to visit the Island. “I thought he just needed to get it out of his system. He wrote and told me about the Tiny Chapel, the Fairy Cake Ring, the German bankers on the cliffs and the Kiev Run. He sent me postcards.” But the more he visited, she told Futu, the more crippling his addiction became.

“The pictures on his postcards became unnerving, almost grotesque,” she said. “The last one he sent me… there were these bears sitting on a sea wall eating fish and chips. I mean, what? Bears just can’t do that!”

Things reached a head when she found her son stealing from her purse to pay for trips to the Island. “I got him blacklisted by local travel agencies but there are some unscrupulous operators out there. Real pushers. If you look hard enough – and I mean really, really look – you can find details about trips to Guernsey in the national press.”

Every so often, stressed Mrs Spurn, her son would clean himself up. “He’d burn all his copies of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page and go cold turkey, but he’d always relapse. He’d start saying ‘eh’ under his breath and taking a strange, misplaced pride in being stubborn. When he grazed his knee and said it ‘picked’ I knew he was using again.

“It was just sick in the end. He loved everything about your island, even stuff that you obviously did for a joke, like the Millennium Stone or the Telephone Museum. But it was the heritage stuff that really did the damage: the Folk Museum, the Woodcarvers, that witch on a chimney stack. He loved the Guernsey countryside, too – all that scrub vegetation around L’Ancresse Common. He used to call it ‘chasing the gorse.'”

“You soon move on to Guernsey… and Guernsey is the biggest hit of all”


Recovering Donkey addicts describe Mr Spurn’s actions as demonstrating classic escalation behaviour. “At one stage or another we’ve all thought that Herm was enough,” said Yvonne Ravine, 31. “But when you think about it, Herm isn’t even enough for the people who live there. You soon move on to Guernsey… and Guernsey is the biggest hit of all.”

Ms Ravine, who has been clean since a tradition-induced seizure at the Rocquaine Regatta, said that the Viaer Marchi is regarded by Donkey connoisseurs as the ultimate high. “Just thinking about it gets me off,” she said. “If you showed me the programme I know I’d fall off the wagon.”

She believes that Mr Spurn, conscious of his limits, would have stayed away from ‘the Marchi’ for many years, “but probably needed a big fix after the 65th Liberation a couple of months ago. No doubt he thought he could handle it, but did you see the line up? Jesus. I’m surprised there weren’t more deaths.”

Futu’s own correspondent was at the event. A true Guernseyman in the sense that he distrusts anything and everything that originates from outside the Island, Chet Wrigley admitted that even he was overwhelmed by the sheer Guernocentricity of this year’s Old Market.

“At one point GU10 were singing Sarnia Cherie, the St Pierre du Bois Douzaine were reciting parochial by-laws in Guernésiais, the Lieutenant Governor was giving gâche melée to the winners of the crab pot weaving competition — and then to top it all old Len de Bourgonniere dropped to his knees and started reciting the Clameur de Haro.”

Substance misuse support groups have long criticized organisers of Viaer Marchi for failing to provide clean programmes, forcing Donkey addicts to use the ones discarded in the car park. Campaigner Samantha Rinky Dink insisted there is much more they can do.

“Just a simple detox tent would make everything much safer,” she said. “Somewhere a safe distance from the crown and anchor and the Rocquettes cider, where addicts could remove their bonnets, safely dispose of their Guernsey biscuits and come down slowly.”

But Mrs Rinky Dink had nothing but praise for the Culture and Leisure Department, who she said have based their entire marketing strategy on the assumption that portraying the Island as a place where holiday-makers might want to visit might cause irreparable harm.

“Hats off the them,” she said. “Unlike Jersey, who are actively grooming the next generation of tourism junkies by rolling out a multi-million pound advertising campaign, Culture and Leisure have played down Guernsey’s potential as a holiday destination by limiting their press campaign to a quarter-page advert on Page 17 of the Guernsey Press.”

“He was planning to change his name to Len De La Haye De Garis…”


Mrs Spurn said that trying to keep Guernsey a secret wasn’t enough to save her son, who she last saw two months before his death. Their relationship broke down, she said, when she discovered that he had made an appointment with an expert in cultural reassignment.

“He was planning to change his name to Len De La Haye De Garis and have his legs shortened – he said he couldn’t bear to tower above his ‘fellow Guernseymen’.

“He was five foot seven.”

Soon afterwards, Mr Spurn fled his mother’s address and disappeared. After being notified of his death, police in the UK raided a Norwich address, a boudiax-smeared bedsit in a condemned building. Behind a decaying mattress stuffed with vraic they found a stack of old Vendor magazines, a bunch of freesias and a Guernsey cow.

Meanwhile, a search of the computer that Mr Spurn left at his mother’s revealed that he had spent 22 hours a day on This Is Guernsey. “He seems to have spent the whole time clicking the refresh button,” says Mrs Spurn, “even though they only put up one new story every six months.”

There was one instance of Mr Spurn visiting Guernsey Futu. “He didn’t really get it,” said his mother. “Is it supposed to be funny?”

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