…are you knackered, Justin?

There can only be one of two reasons for Yachting Monthly – Britain’s favourite boaty mag – choosing to publish a 700 word excerpt from Canvas Flying, Seagulls Crying: the first is that they thought it was bloody brilliant; the second, more plausibly, is that their feature writer has gone on leave. Look out for it on the shelves of all good newsagents from Jan 7th. Smarm.

bloody brilliant...

bloody brilliant…

At the grand age of about 70, Mary has cut a few peats in her time. It’s a calendar event in the Hebrides. Islanders go out ‘onto the moss’ to dig peat in the spring for burning during the long winter’s nights ahead. I’d gone along to see how it was all done under the pretext of being there to help. So it was embarrassing that whenever I grunted from exertion I’d hear Mary’s sympathetic voice in the vicinity of my backside as I bent over my work:

Are ya knackered, Chustin? …Eh?  Are ya buggered?

Mary and Linda

Mary and Linda

Her son, John – about my age – was cutting the peats like a perpetual-motion machine …sending them flying up from his ditch to land heavily on the bank. From deep in the bog I heard his voice confirming the worst:

Aye – you’re knackered boy …you’re knackered.

John, holding a tsgeir.

John, holding a ‘tsgeir’.

With that they both leant heavily on their tools and turned toward me with a pitying look -wondering, perhaps, whether it might not be kinder to have me put down. Eventually their expressions softened and I knew they’d spare me. Never-the-less, they continued to gaze for a while – an Englishman holding a fork, standing in a Hebridean bog being something of a novelty for its own sake.

I don’t mean a ‘fork’ – in the Hebrides it’s known as a ‘g-r-r-rip’.

In a completely uncalled-for act of generosity they gave us thirty sacks of peat and there was absolutely nothing we could do to refuse them: We don’t NEED them, we insisted. ‘But your GETTIN them! John said, raising his voice.

Bearing in mind that Mary’s head had spent the morning a couple of feet from my bum it gave me a hell of a shock, when we’d all got back home and my hand fell into my lap whilst drinking tea, to discover that the gusset of my trousers had a huge hole. Let’s be honest – when I say ‘hole’, there was actually no ‘trouser’ …just that folded seam which is meant to hold the two legs together. A moment later I remembered I’d fallen out of love with wearing underpants six months earlier, preferring to go commando. It dawned on me that poor Mary would not have been able to avoid having both an intimate and prolonged examination of my reproductive equipment – swinging like the hammer in a bell as I worked – and getting to know it all far better by the end of the day than I knew it myself. I flushed with horror – first hot, …then cold. I looked over at Mary who paused as she raised her teacup. She looked at me, held my gaze, then winked.

Linda and I have come ashore now for a couple of months. I’m nervously looking forward to having a hot bath …’looking forward’ because I haven’t had one for a while; ‘nervous’ because if I get into difficulties – will the coastguard think to look for me this far inland?

…thanks, Dr. Sandy

I went on a walk four years ago when we were living in the Hebrides which bloody nearly killed me. Mentally, I’m not quite over it yet. The difference between walking in the Hebrides and walking in, say, Cornwall – where we’re living now, on board our boat – is that if your spirits flag and you begin to fall behind, in Cornwall you can slip into a coastal hostelry for a restoring pint – or if you’re on a low-alcohol diet, a cup of coffee in cafe with steamy windows – before having a quick pee and heading back out to catch everyone up …whereas if you lag behind in the Hebrides, your a dead man.

I'm scared of heights and like to travel with my medical team. Drs. Sandy and Chris, together with Nurse Linda.

I like to travel with my medical team Dr. Chris (l) Dr. Sandy (m),  Nurse Linda (r) ….together with a mountain rescue dog in case we become separated and it begins to snow.

I bought some straw bales last week. I’m not a very good at buying straw. The bales required for building (did I mention we’re building a straw bale house?) need to be bound so tightly that you’d struggle to push your fingers under the baler-twine, your finger tips turn white, and when you attempt to lift them they’re so heavy – and you unused to dealing in agricultural quantities – that the bales pull you off balance throwing you face down in the dung. It gives the farmer something to chortle at – for which purpose he excuses himself and tells you he’s got to go …back up the ‘ouse a minute.

The bales I bought weren’t like that, though. I could float my arm freely in the space under both strings and when I braced my feet to lift the bale – 1 – 2 – 3 heave, it was so light it shot over my head, dislocating my arm in the process. It’s still hanging in the rafters now (the bale, I mean) – we tried poking it with a stick.  In my embarrassment I pretended the bales were ideal and gave him a £200 deposit. The farmer supplies Waitrose with free range eggs. Did you know he has to write the date on 3000 eggs every day, and then paint a little tractor on them?

Off Grid

Living Off-Grid

Linda and I are living off grid.

Now that I come to work out for how long we’ve lived off grid I feel quite proud: it’s not many people who can claim to have lived without electricity for fifteen percent of their lives.  Well, ignoring two-thirds of the world’s population, I mean.

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you – I was hoping that all this greeny eco-living would be brought firmly to an end with our Straw Bale house and that we’d supply it with real electricity. But in order to get mains power – it turns out – we’d have to run a cable underground through a field belonging to the Bath & Wells Diocese (Crosses himself). B & W strenuously champion two causes: Enabling affordable housing; and Raising money to repair the crumbling fabric of their buildings. After battling with their emotions they decided that crumbling buildings were the things closest to their hearts and asked us for £5000 (plus costs) so they could repair some, in exchange for which they’d allow us to dig a trench and then fill it up again, thus ‘enabling’ our house. You can buy a lot of solar panels for five thousand quid.

We’re falling into a similar trap with our mains water – but let’s not go there. Let’s not go there isn’t really one of my expressions – but my Mum uses it a lot. So do two-thirds of the world’s population …but let’s not go there.

In a week or two’s time we’ll hear whether or not we have got our planning permission. Did I mention that we are building a straw-bale house? We were at the plot the other day and our nearest neighbour on the other side of the lane, who has lived in his house for 45 years, came over and introduced himself with the words “I’ve been in favour of this from the beginning, you know?”; forcing us to contrast him with our nearest neighbour on our side of the road who moved in last Tuesday and who has listed his objections in a letter to the planning authority which runs for eight pages.

I know that one of you kind folks has mentioned my book Canvas Flying, Seagulls Crying in a blog or something because sales on Amazon have been soaring. Relatively speaking. Thank you.

Irish Harbour Can I ask you to hold off buying presents for your family for about two weeks? In two weeks’ time I’ll be announcing a promotional price reduction from £48 to £39.95 (inc p+p) for my Limited-Edition Fine-Art Prints.

In my gallery you’ll find an image suitable for every member of your family …and if you can’t, why not surprise them by giving them an image you know they won’t like?

If you’d like to pre-order a piece of artwork today for delivery in about two weeks visit the gallery, fill out your delivery address on the order form, and insert the words justin tyers blog in the message field –  you won’t be charged any money now, and we’ll know it is to be charged at the promotional price when we send it.

If your loved-one just isn’t into works of art – but owns a dog, or a cat – what about some straw?


I’ll blow your house down…

We’ve been given fair warning, illustrated by that folklore tale, but we’re going to build a house made from bales of straw. It’s official now because we’ve just spent £385 applying for planning permission – and we don’t chuck that kind of money about easily.

I’ve spent the last few months researching straw bale houses, and doing all the drawings. If you can buy your bales dry, it seems, and keep them dry, then plaster them in lime mortar, there is no reason why they shouldn’t last for between 100 and 200 years.

What about fire? No problem, ‘traditional’ concrete-block built housing schemes are starting to incorporate straw bale walls every so often as a fire break. Flames just can’t get through the buggers.

Rats? They’re not attracted to the bales because there are no seed heads. And they won’t  gnaw through the lime to make runs because the lime is so caustic.

Here is an artist’s impression of the house we hope to build. It incorporates a ‘studio’ underneath in which this particular artist can continue to fail to make an impression. Hurry – you have until the early days of October to object to it.

Artist's Impression

Artist’s Impression

Just a thought… next year, right? …if you’d like to learn how to build a straw bale house …or to teach us how to do it …we’d be extremely grateful for your help. Or guidance.

Since May we have been living back on board our sailing boat and on one memorable occasion, as we walked along the low water beach, Linda found the world’s biggest Oyster. She thought it was a stone, at first.

It weighed just over a kilo.

It weighed just over a kilo.

Fortunately for the Oyster Linda doesn’t eat Oysters so she popped it back where she found it. Unfortunately for the Oyster I saw where she put it. It was delicious.

Here in Cornwall, in the words of Coleridge, summer has set in with its usual severity. Never-the-less, we’re enjoying it very much between showers, and have even made in-roads into the sanding and varnishing jobs we neglected for so long. People are beginning to recognise the old girl: they motor up to us calling out “Is this the boat that featured in Phoenix from the Ashes?” We tell them coyly that it is …slipping-in that there is a second book out …copies of which we happen to have on board …then we tell them that we will let them have a copy if they can match our generosity by letting us have nine quid. I know it’s shameless – but the way we look at it is that every book we can sell is another straw bale for our house.

If you’d like to buy us a straw bale for our house you can order them from Amazon, or even better get a signed one – perhaps including a dedication for a friend – direct from my website. Or you can send us a straw bale – mark the back of the envelope ‘Radio 4 straw bale appeal’.

Thank you.


Devils on horseback

Other Places

Other Places – Linda and Justin are leaving…

I’m beginning to get interested in horse-riding again.

Of course, it’s good exercise …get’s you out and about and all that – but I’ve had some of my best laughs whilst riding.

Take the time we lived on Exmoor and my mucker Steve came down for the weekend with his family. We all booked a ride and were issued with our horses and because Steve is such a big chap he got a big horse; lucky boy. I can still remember his face as he looked up at it for the first time; he didn’t say anything but you could see the thought-bubble: Oh my f–king god …and knew he was in for two hours of hell. We all did really, and that was enough to start me off. Laugh? …and the ride hadn’t even begun yet! Talk about value-for-money…

Steve very bravely mounted his horse with the help of a three-stage ladder we borrowed from a passing fire truck, and from atop the beast we heard him call down to ask the name of his horse …I think he wanted to get on ‘first name’ terms with it; You’re on ‘Fury’; the girl called back up to him, using her hands as a hailing trumpet. I watched the colour drain from Steve’s face – there was another really good belly laugh right there – but I daren’t let it out …I was in pain with trying to keep it in. Never mind Steve – I wasn’t sure how much of this I could take. The ride started and we hadn’t gone very far before we noticed that Steve was missing …so we turned back and found him and one-half his horse – the other half was stuck in a Beech hedge, browsing. Steve was pulling on the reins in a half-hearted sort of a way, pleading with it to come away, but he wasn’t being sufficiently assertive because he didn’t want to make it angry.

We put Steve at the front for a bit, after that, where we could keep an eye on him but, bite-by-bite, the horse fell back to last place. It was heartbreaking, really, to know that Steve had paid good money for this, but wasn’t having a lovely time. As for the rest of us, we were thriving!

When he failed to turn up at a gate half an hour after that I turned back and found him about a mile behind – horse in hedge, again. Steve seemed pleased to see me after so long – though I think he would have been pleased to see anyone …bit of company, like: Yoost, come and give me a hand, mate. He said, using my nickname and getting all chummy. I thought he was doing terribly well not to get cross with me, considering I was biting my lip so hard it was bleeding.

Then came an awful roaring noise from further along the track, which startled his horse. Two youths on motocross bikes were coming along the lane, full-pelt, spiralling up the dirt in their wake. Steve’s horse bolted, it’s eyes, I noticed as it galloped past, were as round as saucers. And then, blow me down, I noticed that Steve’s eyes were as round as saucers too …and seeing both heads wearing identical expressions, mounted one on top of the other, is one of my most treasured memories. You can’t buy memories like that, And at twenty quid with a horse ride thrown-in – you can’t very well go wrong.

Anyway, this is as a prelude to saying that having lived for eight lovely years in the Hebrides, we are moving back down south to where we come from – to Exmoor. We’ll be living back on board until the autumn, but we’re in the process of buying a plot, on which we are going to build a straw bale house. I hope to God a horse doesn’t eat it.

Living in the Hebrides has been wonderful:

It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin I tear with my own hand. (Khalil Gibran)

The view we will no longer have...

The view we will no longer have…

Crikey – it’s almost spring!

We’re getting some right spooky sunrises at the moment, here in the Hebrides – have a squint at this:

First light

First light

A travel podcaster from the USA took me into deep waters the other day with his line of questioning. Just when I thought I’d got every question about our travels off-pat. He was interviewing me about Canvas Flying Seagulls Crying – but not only did Nathaniel Boyle ask me new questions I’d never heard – he never actually asked me any old ones.

His website is packed with stories and well worth a browse.

You know I was saying that I’d started writing a book about living on a Hebridean Island and earning my living from amongst the world’s thriftiest people? Well, I’ve got about a third of it nailed so far – though it does have to pass through the ‘quality control’ of Linda’s scrutiny …if it survives that I’ll post a bit of it here so that you can see the way it’s going. Actually, it would be really handy to have your feedback – let me know if your up for it and I’ll personal-mail you a little chunk …only if you promise an honest review, though. If you approve of it, I’ll begin the grind of finding an agent and publisher – much more daunting than writing it …struggling to be remotely interesting.

Speaking of islanders, here is a piccy of Linda with John and Mary – a mother-and-son team who grow award-winning vegetable …and give nearly all of them away …just so you know what proper islanders look like:

Linda, John, Mary, and some competition leeks.

Linda, John, Mary, and some competition leeks.

I spent six weeks last summer sawing and splitting 12 tons of firewood ‘cos Linda and I are too stingy to turn on all the storage heaters. Looking at the pile (scuse my stupid pose) I thought it might last us two years – but it’s been so cold and blowy on the isles there’s hardly anything left and it’s only the first week in February. I’m wondering if we’ll survive our hibernation.

Smug git.

Smug git.

I hear that Cornishman Jethro’s shutting down his club because no one thinks he’s funny any more …pity, he’s always made me laugh. Mind you, he can’t be struggling that much because he’s going on tour, catch him while you can. One of his jokes gave me a chortle just the other day. I heard it, appropriately enough, when I was down in Cornwall, staying with friends and seeing if our boat was still afloat – this is one of Jethro’s jokes, this is …see if you like it:

Last week me and Denzil went out for the evening’, and we had a few pints, so we thought t’would be better to catch the bus ‘ome. So we went down the bus station, and there was no buses runnin’ – t’was that bloody late. So Denzil says he got an idea – he says, spose I go into the depot and steal a bus?  I says: Good idea!, I says that’s a bloody good idea that is! I says; I’ll stay here, lookout, and you go into the depot see if you can steal a bus. Well he was gone bloody ages – I heard all this revving – and he was gone bloody ages, he was. And I heard all this revving, and when he came out with his bus, I says to him, I says: You’ve been bloody ages, you ‘ave. I’ve been standing here and you’ve been bloody ages. He says I know I ‘ave – but the bus with Penzance written on it was right at the back.



I hope spring comes your way soon.



Happy New Year!

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr - Happy New Year  PS I don't own this photo and no one seems to know who does, so I can't ask for permission to use it. If it's yours - can I use it, add a photo credit ...or should I take it down?

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr – Happy New Year
PS I don’t own this photo and no one seems to know who does, so I can’t ask for permission to use it. If it’s yours – can I use it, add a photo credit …or should I take it down?

If you’re a herbivore, you can safely skip this first paragraph. As a meat-eater, there are a few cuts which are so scrummy they knock me off my perch. Breast of Pigeon is one; whiskied pheasant (as per Pru Leath’s Cookery Bible) is another; Fillet of Beef – outstanding, but I can’t afford it very often …but as for fillet of Venison – Haysoo Kreesto, as the Spanish say.

Since moving to Scotland we have it at least a dozen times a year. You see, here in Scotland deer live wild on the moors – none of your organic nonsense – this is the real thing. To cook: place an old steel frying pan and a little Olive oil straight into the fire-box of your wood burning stove, then wait until the oil reaches ignition point and bursts into flames.  Throw the steaks into the pan, swoosh them all around in a failed attempt to put the fire out, continue cooking for 60 seconds.  Then turn them over, and cook for another sixty seconds. Allow to stand for five minutes before serving (just long enough to give the chips their second fry). I recommend a sauce made from fried onion, garlic, stinky stilton, and cream. If that is not the best thing you’ve ever put in your mouth – I’ll pay for you to have a gold filling.  Nay bother with all the money I’m saving by buying venison at less than half the price of farmed beef.

I don't own this image either - but in fairness to the bloke that owns the one above (or woman) I thought I'd better spread my theft over a wide area. Int she got lovely eyes? I stare at them everyday - though I've managed to get it down to an hour-or-so.

I don’t own this image either – but in fairness to the bloke that owns the one above (or woman) I thought I’d better spread the load.
Int she got lovely eyes? I stare at them all the time – though I’ve managed to get it down to about an hour a day.

Over christmas we were on board the good ship, but came ashore for a couple of days to eat Goose, Peking Duck, and Prawn Curry (not all on the same plate). The days after Christmas were perishing (-6c, thick frost on deck). I let off a distress flare on New Year’s Eve – I’m not advocating that kind of behaviour – it went in the wrong direction, drifted over the town and nearly caused some distress …but I can’t say too much about it in case someone finds my pyrotechnic on their roof where it burned for about a minute setting fire to all the crappy bits of plastic the seagulls carry up there to build nests. The owner might put two and two together, and this blog will incriminate me.  Best to change the subject.

At last - here's a photo I do own. This is my GP, Chris, doing his morning surgery. (on trees).

At last – here’s a photo I do own. This is the island’s GP, Chris, doing his morning surgery. (on trees, arf arf). Out of all three photos, only Chris will ask me to take his down. (There, that should ensure it stays up;)

Creative Scotland have made me an offer of funding – I fell weeping on their neck and kissed it.  Look out for a third book – you will of course be the first to hear about progress if you keep checking back to this blog …or I think you can register – though I’ve never mastered it.

A chap’s just written to say parts of Canvas Flying was so funny it reminded him of PJ Wodehouse …head bows, humble, thank you.

Happy New Year!

I hope this year is the best ever for you.


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.


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…



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.



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?


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



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