A free-prezzie give-away? …it must be Christmas

Neither of us are really comfortable

Justin and Scooter – neither of whom look really comfortable

Linda, Scooter and I wanted to wish you a very Happy Christmas and if we don’t do it now, before the weather sets in, the post will be cancelled and you won’t get it in time.

Crab sandwich

You’ll need good teeth for one of Linda’s Crab sandwiches

You see, here on the Isle of Islay, in the Hebrides, 25 odd miles offshore from the wild west coast of Scotland, we’re about to be locked down by a storm which is set to last most of next week. Then the ferry will be cancelled, no post leaves the island, and nothing comes in. By day three the shelves of the Co-Op will be bare, and then we all have to eat Seaweed and Limpets. If it goes on for six days all we islanders get together and begin to draw lots to see who gets sacrificed.

Scooter will be alright now that the farmer has put his cattle on the moor. He goes off around midnight to check his traps and doesn’t come back until dawn. I smelt his breath yesterday – it was beef steak cooked over a camp fire …then I noticed that my tent had gone, and some pans were missing.

Militant

The good news is that we are just a fortnight away from the shortest day – so summer is just around the corner! Hurrah! I can’t wait to spend time on board again…

Justin

 

Between power cuts I’m working on a few anecdotes for my next book which will be about living in the Hebrides and trying to earn my living from the world’s thriftiest people – I’ll be on it full-time from January – if I secure Creative Scotland funding. When that’s published I’ll probably have to leave the island.

I see that both Phoenix and Canvas have now been published as talking books, by Audible. It sounds funny to hear someone reading me my life. The wonderful people at Audible have given me free-codes for ten copies of Phoenix to give away to you – if you’d like one please leave a request here in the form of a reply to this blog – or send me a request at: justin@justintyers.plus.com  – there are no dead-easy competition questions to answer – if you’d like one just ask …first come first served.

I hope you have a very happy Christmas. And may I be the first to wish you and those you love a very happy New Year, too? …I wish you all you wish yourself.

Justin

 

Successful Writers – how do they nail it?

Looking back over my life I begin to see where it all went wrong.

When I first became crippled by a desire to write, preventing me from flourishing elsewhere, I thought I’d better learn how famous writers had triumphed, and see what lessons there may be for me in their success.

A recurring theme, I discovered, was that at some stage before stepping into the spotlight of world attention they’d accepted a part-time job, like, way below their station. Dickens, for example, glued labels onto bottles; George Bernard Shaw obtained the way-leave agreements which allowed telephone wires to be strung all over Britain; and before he wrote the Bible Jesus used make tables and chairs.

J K Rowling - milking goats

Before receiving international acclaim for her ‘Famous Five’ series of children’s books,  J K Rowling used to milk goats in support of her early career.

Having learned their secret I rushed out to apply for a shelf-filling job in the scabbiest Cash and Carry I could find in Devon. Mein Gott!… I found a corker! Customers arrived in sagging Volvo estates with no exhausts or MOT’s; staggered into the building in egg-stained jogging bottoms, fag-on, to emerge some 20 minutes later carrying boxes of synthetic food for a ‘hospitality’ business which was surely one Food Standards Authority visit from bankruptcy.

The C&C operated from a poorly lit warehouse where the manager (blue nylon suit, bacolite glasses, gammy leg) limped about with a clip board looking threateningly at anyone who came inside his radar. He was closely attended (it was safer to go in pairs) by a malnourished irritable-looking women in her thirties whose smug expression suggested she had always known she would one day rise to the position of supervisor if she just maintained her brutal lack of compassion for people who had fallen on hard times. Behind their backs, staff openly mocked their passing.

I breezed in and asked ‘the manager’ if it would be possible to have a word with the manager? The manager – for it was he – was unmanned by the directness of my approach. His jaw fell and he looked at me, uncertainly, as though I were a police detective. No one spoke. By way of answer his assistant who had been looking me up and down without finding anything to like, tossed her head in the manager’s direction – with the meaning: ‘That’s him …speak.’

I smiled insufferably; told him that I was studying to be a writer, and asked if he could give me a job filling shelves? More silence followed. The only sound the ear could definitely discern was the ‘snap’ of a mousetrap going off at the back of the warehouse, having caught another thief, and taking this earliest opportunity to punish it, capitally.

Give ‘er your name and address – we’ll be in touch if we need someone.’ With that he shuffled on to deal the pressing business of running a failing cash and carry.

Twenty years later I haven’t heard back – that’s why you haven’t ‘heard’ of me yet. But if you know a struggling writer just starting out in their career, direct them to this blog so that they can mine its rich seam, and have for themselves the benefit of its invaluable advice.

You could help them and me still further by buying them a copy of Phoenix from the Ashes – which is a bloody good book, actually.  Don’t worry – it’s not about writing, or about boats.  If you already own several copies of it, try: Canvas Flying… You can get a signed copy of from my website – they’ll only rise in value as I become known. Or if you’ve got any sense you can get a copy without paying postage from Amazon – though you may have to buy another low-priced item so that the value of your basket comes to more than a tenner …I bought an ironing-board cover from them recently for under a fiver, and I’m quite pleased with that.

The world's thriftiest people

Barbara Cartland – struggling to be a writer. Critics preferred her darning.

I’ve just applied to Creative Scotland for a grant to write a third book. It’s about moving to a remote Hebridean island and trying to earn my living from amongst the worlds thriftiest people.  I’m conducting a poll …could you leave a message stating whether you think this is an interesting development, or whether you think they shouldn’t waste their money?

Justin

English Eccentrics at the Seaside

The ramps at Roundwood Quay

The ramps at Roundwood Quay

It’s a real honour to park our boat against the historic Cornish stone quay known as Roundwood because for over two thousand years vessels have been arriving at this very spot propelled by the wind. Back along it was trading boats loading tin and copper from Cornwall’s famous mines that moored five-at-a-time at the ramps you can see built into the quay’s three sea walls. The ramps facilitated loading by cart.

Although the quay fell into redundancy in the 1800’s the National Trust keeps the block granite walls, quoins and capping stones pristine for occasional visitors by boat – together with those on foot, camping or barbecuing …all are welcome to enjoy this piece of history and the romantic setting of the spot seems to unbend people – there’s always a convivial murmur of conversation emanating from those who have come to sit in the sun and pass some time. And because guards are down, you’re guaranteed to meet interesting folk on Roundwood.

Tying to a tree keeps the boat upright when the tide goes out.

Tying to a tree keeps the boat upright when the tide goes out.

We’d arrived to do some supermarket shopping and, having our car near-by, were just returning from our trip, along one of those thread-like Cornish roads which only ‘local knowledge’ reassures you will eventually get you to your destination, when we turned a corner and found the single-track road blocked by a yellow car, apparently parked-up. Inside, an elderly lady sat quietly eating a sandwich. Seeing us, she waited until a convenient moment in her meal, then set down her sandwich on the passenger seat and through her dazzlingly polished windscreen we recognised the actions of someone preparing to start the engine. To allow her generous room to pass we pulled onto the muddy verge on our side so that she could sail through on hers. But she didn’t.  She crawled toward us until she was alongside, wound down her window, and then turned her engine off …taking up her sandwich again.

I wound my window down.

In 1963 I bought a painting… she began, but was interrupted by our dog who, hearing a strange voice, woke up and began barking. Shut up, dog! she snapped, over my shoulder, before resuming her story: In 1963 I bought a painting by Margaret Eastwood, called Cowland’s Creek …so years ago I decided I would one day visit the spot to see if I could find the very place the artist sat. I found it alright, but guess what?… (here she took a bite from her sandwich for dramatic effect) – there was no water! Is there usually water in Cowland’s Creek? In my painting there is – but now there’s only mud!

We sympathised with her disappointment; told her it was low tide, and suggested that if she returned in a few hours she’d fine water in the creek.

Oh well, I’ll come another day. she said airily. Anyway I was just driving away when I saw a rabbit sitting right in the middle of the road, blocking my way, eating his lunch. He wouldn’t move, so I thought ‘Alright then, I’ll join you …I’ll sit in the middle of the road and eat my lunch!

What with observations about the Newlyn Group of Artists; the wisdom or otherwise of investing in Art; together with sundry remarks about what lovely weather we were having just then, it was another five minutes before we were allowed to continue our journey.

This boat used to moor at Roundwood 100 years ago.

This boat used to moor at Roundwood …100 years ago.

That evening, still tied up to Roundwood Quay, whilst preparing dinner we heard a knock on our hull and climbed on deck to find a terribly-well spoken man in his sixties apologising for the noise he and his friends were making. We hadn’t heard a thing. Looking across the quay I noticed a huge motor boat had arrived, and from it came the occasional sound of mirth. At its stern flew the White Ensign …you can only fly one of those if you are a member of Britain’s poshest yacht club …the Royal Yacht Squadron. It’s one of those Great British Institutions that simply refuse to open their doors to riffraff, and the Queen gets last say. Later that evening we found it in our hearts to accept an invitation that Charles (we’d learned his name) had made to join him and his friends for drinks.

The white ensign. I'd quite like one of those.

The white ensign. I’d quite like one of those.

In conversation we established that both he and my father had served as Commanders in the navy – though not at the same time …my father died twenty years ago, and was in his eighties, then. Charles asked for my father’s name? Tyers I said. The name didn’t ring any bells, so he wandered away to turn the sausages, leaving us to ‘mingle’. Five minutes later he was back carrying a plate of perfectly-cooked sausages and offered me one. As I chose, he pointed an accusing finger at me with his other hand; You’re father was Secretary of the Naval and Military Club; he said.

He was! I beamed, How did you know that?

Your father gave me a bollocking! He said, and his voice carried with it the distant ripples of a wound inflicted 40 years earlier.  For my own part, I was utterly thrilled to meet someone who’d met my father – after all I’d only met him a handful of times myself. I’m going to write to the Royal Yacht Squadron and see if all of this qualifies me for free membership.

Seven year’s worth of unlikely meetings with strangers on sea walls are recorded between the covers of my books. Further examples of salty illustrations can be viewed on my website.

Best Wishes

Justin

 

Scotland – it’s my call.

before the mast

Protesters prevent a Tall ship from using the wind as a means of propulsion

We’ve been away, in Cornwall. Weeks on end of scraping the barnacles off our Galleon and rubbing down all the varnish-work with crappy little bits of sand paper, worn thin through labour. Joyful though it was to be messing about on the water with the sunshine tanning our backs to leather, sometimes the work seemed never-ending and we felt overwhelmed. Then one of us would turn to the other and point out that Rolf Harris would give his right arm to be where we were …thanks Rolf – we drew new energy from that.

48 Tall Ships arrived in Falmouth on August 28th. I don’t know if it was organised that way or merely a coincidence …but you didn’t have to be ‘boaty’ to enjoy the once-in-a-generation spectacle. I took some photo’s:

no horizon

Where’s Wally?

We’re home again now, but I’ve got to go back soon because I’ve left some unfinished business behind. I was sawing down a Cedar Tree for a replacement mast and it didn’t go very well. It wasn’t my tree to saw-down, and it was a dead-quiet morning so I had to wait until someone made some noise in the world before I could fire-up my chainsaw. Just then a helicopter flew low overhead making a helluva racket and allowed me to get my first cut in. I waited nearly an hour for the next diversion – that turned out to be some cloth-head in a motor boat without an exhaust. It sounded like he had a cargo of Chinese Fire Crackers and hadn’t noticed that someone had lit them. Lovely morning like that – ruined …in went the second cut as he passed, and my tree began to fall, nice and slow. I watched it smugly until it fell into the waiting arms of a Beech tree, and stayed there. It’s still there now; so I’ve got to go back with some rope and try to get it down before it falls on some unsuspecting trespasser.

a tree

This photograph of a Cedar was taken 700 miles away from the one I cut down – so as to disguise my whereabouts.

On Thursday it befalls me to decide Scotland’s future. I’ve done some pretty irresponsible things in my time so to be honest it came as a bit of a surprise when the Government and Scottish Assembly asked ME to decide their future. However, I never could resist an appeal for help – they’ve given me until tomorrow to make my mind up. Mary Pitcaithly will announce my decision on Friday.

Hercules, who I think of as my nearest comparator, was only given ‘seven tasks’ – mine just keep coming.

Tallest Ship

A Prussian warship patrols the Port of Falmouth. Poor weather delayed its arrival by almost 200 years.

Thank you for your generous emails about my latest book Canvas Flying… Thanks, too, if you have posted a review on Amazon, or if you intend to review it.

If you would like a boxed-set of Phoenix… and Canvas Flying… – both signed, but without the box, please let me know here on my blog, or by getting in touch on my website.

 

Justin xx

 

 

 

 

 

Video: This is crogging…

Crogging

Crogging

There are a number of farming expressions here in the Hebrides not in national use – though they deserve to be. One of them is Crogging.

A Crogger is someone who catches sheep in a pen and hands them to a sheep-shearer. A good Crogger will arrive at the shearer’s side with a fluffy sheep at the very moment the shearer finishes working on the bald and bloodied one he has between his legs, and which he is about to release back into the wild.

I’ve done a bit of crogging myself:

On the face of it the word Crogging seems to be of little use outside this rural industry. But I remember walking into a beauty salon here on the island and asking: ‘Do you do men?’ …you can say things like that in the Hebrides without the least fear of your question being misinterpreted. The salon was set up in the lean-to utility-room of a low island house and my question echoed briefly around its concrete walls. In the chair having a lovely time until I walked in was a plump island beauty of about 25. As she turned to scowl at me I noticed that her hair was littered with bits of tin foil which tinkled against each other with the movement, like a wind chime …and that the disapproving look she threw me was immaculately drawn in the black curve of her eyebrows and red twist of her mouth – new pastel on spotless canvas.  Next moment I fell backwards from the smell of shampoo and ammonia.

Mens night is Tuesdays …six to seven;’ the hairdresser called irritably over her shoulder, without turning.

The following Tuesday evening I sat amongst the lumpish bony-shapes of other island men. We hid behind one another, with our backs pressed against the wall. The only time I remember being part of a more hopeless and abandoned bunch of chaps was when I attended a city hospital which dealt with men’s issues.

‘Right – who’s next?’ - the Hairdresser’s Mum appeared from the kitchen wearing an apron with bits of pastry on it, carrying a broom. She was as clammy and as cheerless as a cold plum-duff and stood there wheezing from the effort of her journey. No one spoke.

Was it you, Donald?’ (Donald is pronounced ‘dough-nulled’ in the islands). Dough-nulled mumbled something about it being Angus, Angus was sure it was Hector, Hector swore he’d seen Ferguson when he arrived, and Ferguson said it was a full house when he came in. Hairdresser’s Mum came at Ferguson with her broom and drove him into the shearing seat. This is ‘Crogging’.

When I’d been crogged, the hairdresser flourished the nylon shawl which was to protect me from falling hair into the air like a bull-fighter does before meeting his foe – thus freeing it of all its grey hairs which fell lightly down onto my jumper, my trousers and into my mouth when I inhaled. Then she tied it around my neck so that I could breathe, but only just. ‘What was you wantin’?’ she asked.

Now, that question is merely a social nicety – it’s like ‘how are you?'; ‘what kind of dog is that?’ or ‘aren’t your children a credit to you?’ – the world has yet to produce a barber who, having asked it, ever listened to the answer. If moved to reply the correct answer is: ‘A haircut, please.’ …but I like a bit of chat when I have my hair cut – it’s a nervous thing – so for the next five minutes I made suggestions about shape, colour, texture, body, hair irons, cyclic follicular activity, androgens, keratin, and scrunch-drying.

By the end of my discourse the hairdresser’s lower jaw, and that of her mother, had gone slack and they were beginning to dribble. Then there was a ‘bump’ as someone in the queue slid from his chair to the ground in boredom. Normality was restored by a whirr from the clippers which passed over my head from one ear to the other – like a harvester through a field of wheat.

I’m quite chatty, and since the hairdresser was almost mute I thought I’d employ a little role-reversal and ask her all the questions Barbers usually ask their clients …it didn’t go very well: I began by asking her if she was here on holiday? She seemed surprised and threw a furtive glance amongst the queue to see if I was here with my parent or guardian.

‘I stay here…’ she found herself saying. (On the island we talk about ‘staying’ somewhere, rather than ‘living’ somewhere.) That answer naturally suggested another question – a question I’m always asked when I’m on the mainland, and have just informed someone that I live on a Hebridean Island: ‘Really! Tell me …what-on-earth do you find to do for work?’

‘I’m a hairdresser.’ she said, self-consciously, throwing another look into the crowd.

‘You must meet a lot of interesting people?’

‘It hasn’t happened yet.’

I had a long think about that answer, and the next thing I knew, my ordeal was over. In the mirror I threw my head first to one side then to the other. Very distinguished.

very distinguished

very distinguished

I wonder if Kim Jung-un has ever been crogged – he certainly looks like he has.

I’ve just received advanced copies of Canvas Flying, SeagullsCrying. This link will take you to the home page of my website where, if you’d like a signed copy, you can enter your details, and receive the book a smidgen before anyone else does. Having said that, Amazon have already discounted it by over a quid – we all love a bargain – and you can get the same 228 pages of entertainment by clicking here – though I won’t be able to sign it for you. I don’t mind where you get your copy – I just hope that you will get one because I was thinking of you during the whole of the year it took me to write it. In fact, it was you that kept me going really.

Best Wishes

Justin

 

 

Dying in harness…

Taking part in a live TV Debate

Taking part in a live TV Debate

My Facebook page is linked to Action For Happiness who send me cheerful messages several times a day. It’s uplifting to know that there is someone out there who cares about me and tries to keep me chirpy – but I nearly choked on this morning’s message. Stop comparing yourself unfavourably with others; it said – you’re fine just as you are. 

Well, HARDLY!!

I’m not ‘fine’ at all …and I’d like to seize this opportunity to tell you why: Many years ago, when I was an attractive and charming youth with easy banter and a wide circle of friends, I watched them leave me one by one as they found themselves employment. Left alone I realised that I, too, should probably consider what I was going to do with my life. I mulled over the career choices which yawned open to me with feelings approaching horror; but eventually came to see that there was one job especially suited to me. Purpose-made for the serious-minded candidate and very demanding, it would certainly be rewarding if I could ‘pitch up’ to it.

Moreover – no one else was doing it. Oh – one or two dabbled at it on their weekends off, but none had ever settled down to make a career of it. I rose from my seat of contemplation a changed man whose mind was made, and the very next day begun my career as a Loafer.

Glyndbourne loaf

On Stage at Glyndbourne

Just as the world needs people who will stand at the cutting edge of industry, sparks flying over their shoulders; it needs managers to make sure that those doing the work keep doing it; back room boys to decide precisely where they should do it; canteen staff to keep them fuelled and lubricated so that they can keep it up for eight hours at a stretch; transport staff to take them home when it’s done, and to bring them back in the morning; religious leaders to assure them that it will all be worth it in the end; and cleaning staff to sweep up all the dead sparks, cigarette butts and dropped sandwich-filling so that everyone can begin afresh tomorrow.

Yet foremost amongst all this industry the role of the Loafer is often overlooked:  it’s as plain as the nose on your face that if some people are ‘doing’ the work, there absolutely has to be someone who isn’t …who never has, and who never will. Their sole purpose being to maintain the Yin and the Yan …to keep the world in balance. Yet as the loafer plies his trade (or hers …it’s an equal opportunity) he finds that although he is an inspiration to some, he is an irritation to others! Why the loafer should be thus despised for simply going about his business I have never yet discerned.

When folk watch me toil I read the expression on the faces of some of them as envy …wishing perhaps that they’d gone into my line. Others allow their bottom jaw to fall as they patiently wait to observe what it is a Loafer actually does – to catch him in action, so to speak, and settle once-and-for-all a long-running dispute they’ve been having in the pub. Yet there’s always a minority of scoffers who watch me with contempt having convinced themselves – in an old-fashioned sort of way – that I’m not working at all.

Eurovision loag

Working at the Eurovision

That hurts because I’ve thrown myself into Loafing as few have thrown themselves into their careers. And by long continuance, and daily practice – if you will excuse me this small conceit – I’ve become very good at it. Some people tell me I’m a ‘natural’. To those others who just don’t seem to ‘get it’ I make my achievement plain using this comparison: By sheer dint of hard work I’m like the Neurosurgeon at a London Hospital who is at the top of his game – yet who began his knife-craft as a deck-hand on a Trawler, gutting fish.

I have wondered from time to time if I might be in line for promotion, so that instead doing all the work myself I could stand back a bit and guide some energetic youngster as he bubbles his way to the surface – but no promotion ever came. No matter – my job has become automatic with me so that each day, even after all these years, after a long sleep and a late breakfast I find myself picking up the reins from where my weary hands dropped them yester-eve.

Yorkshire loaf

Taking part in the Peasants Revolt of 1524

But now I’m going to tell you something quite shocking …and this goes to the very heart of why I’m not ‘fine’ as I am: In all the years I’ve worked I have never received a penny for my labour! Not a penny have I received in compensation – and that’s why I find the Action For Happiness remark so risible. My friends – those who left me to find my own way – have all got themselves into a position whereby, having made a stash, they’re beginning to observe a prick of light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a well-feathered retirement. Whereas I will have to continue working throughout my retirement. It’s not my purpose to swell your bosom with charitable thoughts in my favour, stuffing generous cheques into envelopes mentioning me as the payee – but in all probability I shall have to work for the rest of my life …in truth I shall probably die in harness.

Last chance to read Phoenix before settling down with the brand new Canvas Flying or even a signed personalised copy.

Duchess unveils Queens Portrait…

Quite a lot of chalk went into this one - I wouldn't mind but it's quite expensive.

Quite a lot of chalk went into this one – I wouldn’t mind getting some of it back out again.

When I saw the Duchess of Cornwall unveiling a Portrait of Her Majesty the Queen (not one she’d done herself – it was daubed by some one else) it shamed me into realising that it’s hight-time I unveiled some of my own masterpieces, for the enjoyment of nations.

For the avoidance of all doubt let me explain that each of the images you are about to see are of the same person; and that none of them are the Queen – regal though I have managed to make my sitter look.

A regal scowl

Regal scowl

If not the Queen, who is it? you ask …and I would fain tell you – nothing would give me more pleasure – but I’m afraid my sitter has asked to remain anonymous. ‘If you are going to show that load of crap,’ she said; ‘for Christ’s sake don’t tell anyone who it’s supposed to be – otherwise you can do with them as you please because no one would ever guess – even if they and I were exhibited side-by-side in an empty and desert land – who the f__k they were’.  A plea for anonymity if ever I heard one.

I used to read a lot of self-improvement books with titles like: ‘Become the success you know you are'; ‘The one minute millionaire’ andJack and the Beanstalk‘. It seems that you, me – all of us, in fact – have the ability to make ourselves fabulously wealthy …though not all at the same time. If we would just sign over everything we have in return for five magic beans, we’ll be on our way. You may wonder why the bean seller wouldn’t just plant the beans himself – but we are to take no notice of our nagging doubts – let people scoff – for we will soon be standing in the very entrance to the mines of Solomon.

For thirty years I asked every stranger I met if they would sell me five magic beans for a cow – yet no matter how I placed myself in opportunity’s way everyone was hanging on to their beans.

I had all but given-up hope when one day, turning from the bric-a-brac stall in a dusty charity shop, a book caught my eye – ‘Unleash your Picasso’ it commanded. In an instant I recognised that this was the moment I’d been waiting for …these were my beans. It was a fairly tatty copy so I baulked at paying 20p until I remembered how Jack had hesitated before paying one cow for five unlikely-looking beans to a stranger on a bridge (I see now that the bridge was symbolic because those beans were to make him wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of avarice …and his old hag-of-a-mother a happy and proud woman. I paid my 20p, and walked out smiling at how proud my mother would be of the enterprise I had just carried out.

I began to turn the pages of my new book. Piccasso, it explained, was an artist who made shed loads of money by painting pictures of people with their eyes in unexpected places – like Flounders. The drawings made Picasso look a complete moron – to say nothing of his sitters. At last! …a band-wagon I could climb on.

I bought myself some pastels and a fisherman’s smock – used it to clean up some paint spillage at my local DIY store, and then, posing as a pastel portrait-artist, went to visit the Queen. She was out when I got there which was a set-back from which I’ve never really recovered.

If you squint your eyes until they're shut - you'll get the full benefit of this image.

You have to squint your eyes until they’re completely shut to get the full benefit of this image.

Nothing daunted, I stopped people on the streets of Bayswater offering to ‘do’ them – but people in London are quite busy and although there was an initial lukewarm interest in my proposal, when they learned that I meant ‘do their portrait‘, and that it would take two or three days, they rushed away to get on with their lives. For a while it looked as though I would fail right there. Then a little voice in my head asked: ‘What would Jack do?’ The answer came to me in a flash – there weren’t any beanstalks nearby so I shinned up a drain pipe, climbed through a window, and found myself on the renal ward of the Hammersmith and Fulham – the ward was filled with people who had no plans to go anywhere for the foreseeable. Business was brisk, no-one capable of speech declined my offer.

When it came to handing over my bill I found that my subjects claimed that my likenesses either made them ‘look’ ill, or else it made them ‘feel’ ill. On one occasion I myself had the uncomfortable feeling that the portrait on which I was working made my subject look ‘lifeless’, but when it was finished I found that he had actually died – so, as an artist, I knew I was getting somewhere.

Part of this images is very good, but I've never been able to work out which part.

Part of this images is very good, but I’ve never been able to work out which part …is it the jumper?

I’ve got another unfulfilled ambition that you could help me with! My second book Canvas Flying, Seagulls Crying comes out in about ten weeks and in order to give it the best start in life I was hoping you might do two things for me: Post this link Phoenix from the Ashes onto your FaceBook page (or similar) and tell everyone what a jolly time you had reading it (lying if you have to), and how fervently and earnestly you wished your friends might obtain all its benefits for themselves; and secondly I have an ambition to get 100 personal reviews of my book on the Amazon review page. Saying a few words about how the book struck you, personally, is highly influential to would-be buyers of the book. At the time of writing there are 46 reviews for it – so if you’ve read the book and not yet reviewed it, and feel you could help me get a bit further up my beanstalk by writing a line or two about your experience of the book – you’d be helping an undiscovered writer (and artist) arrive at his Fee Fie Fo fm moment.

ONE LAST THING – Had you thought of sharing this blog with a friend on account of how brilliant it is?

Best Wishes

Justin

My FaceBook failings…

looking gleckit...

looking gleckit…

Some of my FaceBook friends have lots of friends, causing me to struggle with feelings of insignificance that I am just one of 1250.

I have 33 friends, and if I’m being entirely honest I’m not absolutely sure who two of them are.

In an attempt to match my popular friends, I tried to find 2000 photographs of myself, pouting. I blew the dust off old photo-albums and found six of me trying to be something I wasn’t, and another of me looking Glaikit – I’ll show it to you here, but I’m buggered if I’m posting that one.

Trying to imitate my more-sophisticated friends I was looking for photos of me drinking blue liquid through a straw from an interesting-shaped glass whilst sitting under the shade of palm-frond parasol on a sandy beach in an exotic location wearing a challenging expression for the camera …as if to say why-on-earth would you want to take a photo of me drinking Creme de Viollette on a paradise beach in Fanuaa Lavu – the everyday hum-drum of my tedious life?

I can’t post photo’s of my children because I don’t have any children, either. I can’t remember if I never had any – or if I had one once but left it somewhere – so, no photographs of it being force-fed chocolate mud cake and Coca Cola whilst lying with its feet up on the white-leather sofa of a five-star hotel Foyer in a city far away.

Someone posted a photo which gave me hope – it showed the empty and echoey interior of a brick-built room – it may have been the Badminton court of a sports centre, hired for a party – and had, at the far end, two middle-aged academics slumped over half a pint of beer, looking as though they’d just missed the last bus home. It was captioned: Party in full Swing! Surely I could do better than that? – but the last party I went to had cheese footballs and a couple of tins of Watney’s Party Seven on the sideboard.

FaceBook are kind enough to ‘suggest’ posts, and send me something called PKR which is a computer-generated image showing a group of tattooed riff-raff – no offence to any of them – who I wouldn’t be seen dead with, seated around an oval table of green baize, playing cards, wearing string vests, body-piercings and hanging with vulgarly ostentatious bling. This must be target marketing?

And I regularly get posts advising me that my selfless friends have ‘given a life’ in Candy Crush or Juice Cubes. How long must I wait to hear that their generosity has been rewarded, and that one of them has got a life?

Not being smug – but I get a lot of contact requests from young women whose bosoms are a wonder to medical science. So many in fact that FB makes them form an orderly queue for my attention, exhibiting thumbnails of them down the right-hand side of my page. They pose for the camera on sofa’s which are so low it’s impossible for them to be discreet. All well-favoured by nature with curves and furtive smiles, I imagine they must be swarmed every time they go out of their front doors by equally vital young thews, like bluebottles around a ripe chop. Yet an accompanying message assures me that these girls don’t give a hoot for ‘young’ men and can’t wait to get themselves into a relationship with a bad-tempered, wrinkly, 50-something – which, apparently, is where I come in.

I read through those posts one-by-one to see what gold-dust I’ve become; then notice an ad urging me to save for my funeral.

At last! A name has been chosen for the sequel to Phoenix from the Ashes ...and the winner is: Canvas Flying, Seagulls Crying – and it comes out in about three months. (God, I hope you like it.)

Big thanks to Matt for rinsing-out-of-me this latest instalment of my blog …and a big Thank You to you for reading it.

Best Wishes

Justin

Stag in the Garden

Searching for morsels under the mineral lick

Searching for morsels under the mineral lick

I went to the Barber Shop in Lochgilphead, on the West coast of Scotland, and as I walked through the door the Barber – a Glaswegian in her forties who doesn’t suffer fools gladly called out: It’s appointments only on a Wednesday. So I apologised, then left.

But I’d only taken a few steps when I realised that I had an hour to kill, and thought it might just be worth asking if there were any unfilled appointments …even though – as anyone who lives there will tell you – ‘hours’ in Lochgilphead die only very slowly, and in a great deal of pain.

And anyway it’s not as if you can pop down the road and try your luck at the next Barber Shop because the ‘next’ Barber is in Oban …40 miles away. That’s not 40 ‘ordinary’ miles, by the way, that’s 40 miles on the A816 …if you’re a brave and experienced driver you’ll get up to second gear, sometimes – cutting the journey time down to just three days.

I know the ‘A’ denomination makes it sound important – but it earned it by being the only road. It even has a junction with a Drover’s road from which no one has emerged in the last 100 years …beating Cow’s arses with a stick.

Although the A816 has been ‘adopted’ (Ahh!) by the council, it’s really just a cart track with Tarmac on it. In places. For forty miles your motor vehicle must stitch its way busily over hills and around hair-pin bends, during which your arms and legs will be working like pistons. It’s the only road where you’ll see lay-by’s full of drivers trying to catch their breath.

So if you’re standing within a few steps of the Barber in Lochgilphead – even though it’s a Wednesday and ‘Appointments Only’ – it’s still like having a bird in the hand. I popped my head back round the door to enquire after any unfilled appointments, noticing as I did so that the Gentleman in the operating theatre had half his hair missing, and would soon be turned back into the wild, shiny bald.

‘Just a thought…’ I chimed; ‘have you got any appointments free?’

‘Yes'; she said; ‘I can do you in about ten minutes.’

I sat down and picked out one of the information pamphlets she had on a revolving stand – it looked to be about ten minutes long, and told me how I should react if my son tells me he’s Gay.

‘I wondered if I could have the back and sides very short, and nothing off on top’? I asked her ten minutes later.

‘No, you can’t…’ she said; ‘that would be a mistake …you want to look foppish – don’t you? I nodded. ‘You’re too old for that look – I suppose you want to look like Hugh Grant?

I nodded again. ‘…someone once said I look like him.’

‘You? …like Hugh Grant? …were they blind?  …and in any case, even Hugh Grant doesn’t wear his hair like that anymore.’

As she ran her fingers through my hair, pulling ‘are-you-sure?’ faces at me in the mirror, I spotted the very moment when she arrived at a decision, and wondered what it could be. For four minutes great clumps of hair whizzed through the air as though she was mucking out a stable; she cut my hair exactly as I had requested …out of spite.

So now I look like Snap – off the Rice Krispies box.

I promised regular reader Stickitoffee I’d post a picture of Islay in January. So I’ve been waiting, and waiting for a corker – but mud isn’t very photogenic. And not much else happens in January – we don’t even get snow, really …not like you’d expect in Scotland. It’s the Gulf Stream, innit?

Then this morning, on my third slice of toast – thickly spread with some surprisingly good home-made Seville Orange Marmalade, and accompanied by coffee so strong that when you get to the bottom of the mug you find a quarter of an inch of silt – I was unburdening all my woes to Linda – I find that Breakfast is a great time for a bloody-good moan, closely followed by Lunch and Dinner – when what should I see walk past the window but a Stag, with two of its friends.

Three Stags and a Petrified Tree

Three Stags and a Petrified Tree

Now that is an Islay picture for January – the Gamekeeper told me why: There are 2000 deer on this part of the island, but in the summer months you hardly ever see them unless you climb way up into the hills. From there they have a vast panorama of unspoilt moor; they can see you coming from miles away, and being shy, all you usually get to see is that curious white bum-patch galloping over the horizon so far away they might as well be ants.

But in the winter not much grows at the tops of the mountains and they are forced down to lower ground to forage. When things are really bleak they will come right down to lonely homesteads like this one; and once here, show a particular interested in mineral licks left out by the farmers for their sheep and cattle – together with any scraps of feed-supplement that may have been overlooked.

As for taking photo’s of Deer – if you stand motionless next to something big – like a house – you can watch them at leisure …because all they see is a house. After a month or two they become used to the sights and sounds of civilisation: someone putting the rubbish out; a dog barking; a car passing – they don’t even mind really busy days on which there have been five or six cars …they simply lift their heads, locate the source of the sound, give it a minute, then continue grazing.

By Spring they seem reluctant to return to the hills, eventually plucking up courage to come right up to the house – by day – they stand in the garden and take a disdainful interest in the Brassica’s you’ve spent a week planting …then they sample a dozen of them or more before finding one that’s really worth eating.

Call this a vegetable patch?

Call this a vegetable patch?

By the pring they're fearless.

By the Spring they’re fearless.

Spring? Spring seems too big-a-thing to be hoped for, just now.

I dreamed there would be Spring no more, That Nature’s ancient power was lost. (Tennyson)

Thank you if you are a new or recent visitor to this blog – particularly if you have arrived here having read Phoenix from the Ashes. And an even bigger thank you if you are a regular.

Justin

Living with the Rats…

Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain

You can’t beat living close to nature. Fresh air, the breeze in your hair, and a carpet of frost on the ground. So much for conditions indoors …what’s it like out?

Unbearable, it seems …because this recent bout of cold has brought a family of rats into the house for shelter. You can’t stop them getting in – the house is 150 years old with rubble walls and no real foundations. Consequently all manner of burrowing creatures turn up indoors from time to time, either deliberately or by accident.

We hear the rats running triumphantly between the ceiling joists above our heads, exploring their new home; or working night-shifts, gnawing at something behind the wainscotting. And this morning Linda found a scattering of turds by her washing machine. I don’t want to offend anybody’s religious sensibilities, but that washing machine is to Linda what a fat, incense-burning deity is to people who live in the Far East – she worships at it several times a day. It’s her pride and joy. ‘Washing things’ is Linda’s act of religious purification – a tithe to the Gods – and when some rat comes along and craps in front of it she takes a very dim view.

I’m not too bothered about the washing machine, truth to tell, but what had the rat eaten to produce its excretions? …My tubers!

In the darkness of the Utility room I had a box of Potatoes – Maris Piper main crop (Solanum Tuberosom – I reproduce those words from the label in case they mean something to someone, they may be something to do with the variety, or Solanum Tuberosom may be the name of the packer) – all chitted and ready to plant …now there are just a few broken shoots left lying on the ground. The rat stole our potato peeler and a litre of Vegetable oil, lit himself a camp fire using the wood from our skirting boards …and then fried himself a shed-load of chips.

That rat is going to get his come-uppance: it happens that our dog, Scooter, likes nothing better than spit-roast Rat …so I’ve given him a skewer, a pile of twigs, and some Hot Chillie Sauce, and let him have the run of the Utility room.

Even as a puppy Scooter never missed a thing...

Even as a puppy Scooter never missed a thing…

Owing to a power cut we had breakfast by candle light this morning – I don’t know if it was the storm that knocked the lights out, or whether one of our rats had chewed through the ‘live’ wire. If the latter, you’d expect a slight smell of barbecued rat – which there was – but that could have been Scooter chalking up his first success.

Oh God this is painful: Scooter hasn't caught the rat yet - so I looked through my entire photo collection for a picture of a rat, and the closest I could come was 'Ratlines'. And before anyone points it out - even I can see that the Larboard Fore Topgallant Studdingsail Sheet has been incorrectly belayed.

Oh God this is embarrassing: Scooter hasn’t caught the rat yet – so I looked through my entire photo collection for a picture of a rat, and the closest I could come was ‘Ratlines’ …And before anyone points it out – even I can see that the Larboard Fore Topgallant Studdingsail Sheet has been incorrectly belayed.

Candle-lit brekkies

Candle-lit brekkies

Thanks to everyone who has written a reader review of Phoenix from the Ashes on Amazon. Having topped 40 reviews it has elbowed its way past the The Holy Bible – English Standard Version. You would bring me tears of joy if, as someone who has yet to share their views about Phoenix… online, you posted your review, and helped it overtake the King James Version.