Opening clause…

Posted on: January 11th, 2012 by Andrew Syvret No Comments

 

As 2012 gets underway in earnest, we set out on a circumnavigation of Sir Gilbert Parker's big cat. It was no co-incidence that the first photographs posted to the seajersey gallery were of a Jersey tiger. As the year unfolds, we will spend time with more local 'wildlife' ~ lions, unicorns, leopards and crapauds included. From the protector of Androcl├Ęs, friend of Victor Hugo, to the Zostera of a peasant's bed, all organisms welcome. This voyage may take some time and will not be without its perils. Our quest? A chayre of gold…

 

From The Battle of the Strong (1898)

On a map the Isle of Jersey has the shape and form of a tiger on the prowl.

The fore-claws of this tiger are the lacerating pinnacles of the Corbiere and the impaling rocks of Portelet Bay and Noirmont; the hind-claws are the devastating diorite reefs of La Motte and the Banc des Violets. The head and neck, terrible and beautiful, are stretched out towards the west, as it were to scan the wild waste and jungle of the Atlantic seas. The nose is L'Etacq, the forehead Grosnez, the ear Plemont, the mouth the dark cavern by L'Etacq, and the teeth are the serried ledges of the Foret de la Brecquette. At a discreet distance from the head and tail hover the jackals of La Manche: the Paternosters, the Dirouilles, and the Ecrehos, themselves destroying where they may, or filching the remains of the tiger's feast of shipwreck and ruin. In truth, the sleek beast, with its feet planted in fearsome rocks and tides, and its ravening head set to defy the onslaught of the main, might, but for its ensnaring beauty, seem some monstrous foot-pad of the deep.

To this day the tiger's head is the lonely part of Jersey; a hundred years ago it was as distant from the Vier Marchi as is Penzance from Covent Garden. It would almost seem as if the people of Jersey, like the hangers-on of the king of the jungle, care not to approach too near the devourer's head. Even now there is but a dwelling here and there upon the lofty plateau, and none at all near the dark and menacing headland. But as if the ancient Royal Court was determined to prove its sovereignty even over the tiger's head, it stretched out its arms from the Vier Marchi to the bare neck of the beast, putting upon it a belt of defensive war; at the nape, a martello tower and barracks; underneath, two other martello towers like the teeth of a buckle.

The rest of the island was bristling with armament. Tall platforms were erected at almost speaking distance from each other, where sentinels kept watch for French frigates or privateers. Redoubts and towers were within musket shot of each other, with watch-houses in between, and at intervals every able-bodied man in the country was obliged to leave his trade to act as sentinel, or go into camp or barracks with the militia for months at a time. British cruisers sailed the Channel: now a squadron under Barrington, again under Bridport, hovered upon the coast hoping that a French fleet might venture near.

But little of this was to be seen in the western limits of the parish of St Ouen's, Plemont, Grosnez, L'Etacq, all that giant headland could well take care of itself – the precipitous cliffs were their own defence. A watch-house here and there sufficed. No one lived at L'Etacq, no one at Grosnez; they were too bleak, too distant and solitary. There were no houses, no huts.

 


 

If you listen carefully on a calm night, occasionally you can hear the striped predator snore. With guile, one can have a word in his shell-like.

To be continued…