Puffer, Pout and the Cudgel Tree

An afternoon in St. Helier, Jersey.

I look down at the harbour wall and jetty, and across the water to Elizabeth Mount, off St. Helier on the south coast of Jersey. It’s late afternoon, and the causeway to the Mount is covered by the tide. Looking down from my fourth-floor window is a paved area , and the sea wall bulges out to make room for a tree-sized fake tree. It’s grey and knobbly; more like a series of cudgels plugged into a cudgel-charger than a tree. Apparently it’s a symbol of liberty.

Two young people. One in a bright, petrol-coloured puffer jacket, black leggings and white sneakers. He’s filming a girl wearing a low-cut, black-and-white checked smart top, with matching very short shorts and jacket, and thick black leggings.

She walks up to the harbour wall as the smartphone camera rolls, and then skips up to the cudgel tree. She’s not happy about something, so turns and issues directions to the puffer jacket, and goes again. This time, after getting to the cudgel tree she turns to face Puffer, then leans towards him. She opens her jacket, squeezes the sides of her chest and pouts.

Just then, a middle-aged man in an anorak is passing behind her. He stops, leans on the sea wall and pauses to gaze across the water. Meanwhile, just to the right as I look down from my fourth-storey room, a teenage boy is filming himself from a GoPro on a tripod as he tries to do tricks on a BMX. He rides up to a low wall that runs parallel to the sea wall and jumps up with the bike onto the wall, stopping on a dime. He jumps again to turn to face along the wall and then stands on the front wall, attempting to swivel the rest of the bike through 360 degrees. He fails. He tries again and fails again. And again, and again.

Puffer jacket guy and Pouting lady switch roles, as she takes the camera phone. Puffer then goes puffer-less and leans against a metal railing above a column of motor boats lined up against the high jetty wall. The hidden sun is almost down, but he has dark glasses on. His white headband and white shoes contrast with his skin and clothes and he points at the camera while his partner takes still shots of him.

Swivel guy is now looking at his phone, standing on the wall with his bike idle, focus seeping from him.

An old lady with a baby in a buggy pulls up and takes a picture of the cudgel tree, while two ladies with a baby in a buggy walk past.

Puffer and Pout are switching roles by the same spot in front of the white railing. It’s all stills at this point. Pout’s physical communication is all arms and legs, while Puffer relies on his gesticulating limbs.

Swivel bales. This is disappointing. I’m not big on BMX tricks but after he failed so many times I started to really like the guy for his stickability. He was never the same after Puffer and Pout started posing in the background of his shot.

Pout’s phone light is on as the gloom descends to meet the rising tide. She takes a photo of Puffer’s feet, then slowly walks around him, video rolling as he stands, one leg up on a bar of the fence; a brooding presence. They switch again, and Pout starts to dance like she’s in a crowded club trying not to bump into anyone – it’s all shoulder twitches and hip flicks. Behind the camera, an old bald guy strides purposefully to the sea wall and leans on it. Four seconds later, with equal decisiveness, he walks quickly away.

Puffer and Pout are done, and return to the hotel.

A motor launch white-streaks across the bay towards me, and eight gulls sit on the sea like buoys. Or like boo’ies. Or like boys. The uplighting on Elizabeth’s Mount spreads a warming glow across the castle while, as a heavy shower ambles across the sea behind it.

Twenty minutes later, the two women with a buggy and a baby between them, are back. Buggyless and babyless they sit by the cudgel tree in intimate conversation. Possibly about the nagging suspicion they’re missing something.

A man with a dog come to a halt under a lamppost. The dog eyes the lamppost, considers the cliché of peeing against it but instead adopts a dignified, if leash-straining posture towards the boats and the Selfie Boys.

Two boys come by in anoraks, carrying long selfie sticks. They clamber over and around fencing, to trespass their way along the raised concrete jetty. To be fair to them, the forbidden jetty is well-lit and sturdily fenced, to ensure the safety of everyone who shouldn’t be there. On the other hand they have selfie sticks, which are often not portentous of rational behaviour.

The Freedom Tree in St. Helier, pic taken from our room.

On the legal side of the barrier a woman stops and watches them as they walk away. Her stance is not a challenging one, square to their retreating forms. Rather, her body faces the sea and only her stare faces them. I hope she’s not envious of their derring-do. Nobody should be jealous of someone in possession of a long selfie stick.

I wish for her what almost none of their other visitors to the cudgel tree will enjoy tonight: an evening without a camera. Or at least, one with a lens pointing only outwards.

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