Saturday 25 November 2023

How About THIS For A Cornish ‘Quake?

I still possess some bent cutlery as a souvenir from my housewarming party in 1976 (yes, I did do parties in a previous life!), when Tony “Doc” Shiels, self-ascribed wizard and paranormal aficionado, tried to persuade us that he was a second Uri Geller.

The Doc, long since decamped to Ireland, is probably best known for his links with Morgawr, the legendary Falmouth sea monster, and his claim to have raised Nessie, with photographic “proof” that made it onto the Daily Mirror’s front page.


His Geller act, however, was but one of a number of other unusual talents and activities which he was never too shy to publicise. 


This week’s earthquake down Helston way reminded me of a shattering incident that made headlines back in 1986.


This was when he claimed credit for a minor earthquake – his words - in Ponsanooth, where he was living at the time.


He told Falmouth Packet reporter Clare Morgan how it had happened while he was drinking his favourite pint, Guinness, in the Stag Hunt Inn.


“It was unintentional, but I was angry at the time,” he explained. “I was waving my finger at a picture of the Loch Ness Monster when two plate glass shelves split down the middle, optics shattered and bottles fell and broke.”


By way of background information, he told Clare that his wife Chris and three daughters were all witches and that his two sons, naturally, were wizards.


The Doc’s many “careers” had included fire-eating, which he described as the most dangerous, cautioning: “It’s a mistake to do it if you have a beard (as he had) and the wind changes.”


He recalled: “I was doing a big blow-out, which means you fill your gob with petrol. The wind changed and my head exploded! Guinness saved me then because my wife poured a pint on me.”


He extolled the virtues of Guinness in the first edition of a new magicians’ magazine he was publishing, pointing out: “I use it in my incantation; I often draw a magic sign in the creamy froth on the pint when I’m raising monsters.” 


Alas, when pressed by Clare to demonstrate his powers, he declined to do so – for fear, he said, of damaging the tape recorder belonging to a journalist from BBC Radio 4, who was also in on the interview.


Friday 24 November 2023


Last week it was a vast carpet of bluebells when I shared with you my acrylic painting of a spring scene at Enys Gardens, near Penryn.  Today it’s buttercups to the fore - nothing Cornish, I’m afraid, but I particularly liked this one when I painted it five years ago. It’s from a photograph by my daughter Annabelle, taken when on holiday in the Cotswolds – precise location unknown, or forgotten, I’m afraid. Credit to my teacher:  Jeanni Grant-Nelson


Saturday 18 November 2023


From the autobiography of STEVE PELLOW, who died in July, aged 92, and who was a Falmouth shipping agent with G C Fox & Co for almost 50 years.

One of my night-time call-outs concerned a port medical officer who was not noted for his alcoholic restraint.  One evening a ship put into the bay with a sick crewman.  I summoned a quay punt skipper and undertook the familiar tour of the town’s pubs to find the good doctor.  

The three of us eventually went out to the ship, where we learnt that the sick man was not as seriously ill as feared – but as the ship was about to cross the Atlantic it was felt best to bring him ashore anyway.  

The ship’s engineer, meanwhile, wanted to make some adjustments, which would take “an hour or two”, before resuming the voyage.  So the captain invited the doctor and me to join him with a bottle of whisky.  

When the time came to depart, it was the doctor, not the sick crew member, who was laid down in a “cot” for lowering to the quay punt – while the sick crewman, still able to stand up, comfortably made it down under his own steam!   

Mind you, such was the opportunity that I could very easily have become an alcoholic myself. 

I loved the work – although I had never previously been particularly interested in ships and boats – and I think I loved it most for the chance to meet and work with so many people.  

While colleague John Chard dealt with most foreign flag ships, I was chiefly concerned with British and American vessels.  

I always dealt directly with the captain and/or senior officers – and always, without fail, I would be offered a drink.  Hospitality was always very warm.  In those far-off busy days for the port, I would typically board 30 or 40 ships a month – with at least one drink every time!

I recall another alcohol-related incident that had tragic consequences.  I was asleep in that bedroom over the office when the call came through informing me that an American vessel was putting into Falmouth with one dead man and another who was “going blind.”  

The ship was returning to the United States after taking part in what was known as the Marshall Plan (originally the European Recovery Program).  

This was a US-sponsored scheme designed to rehabilitate the economies of 17 western and southern European countries in order to create stable conditions in which democratic institutions could survive – the fear being that post-war poverty, unemployment and dislocation would reinforce the appeal of communism.

I duly set off for our American visitor, this time with Dr Dick, and we ended up bringing ashore a third man who had become seriously ill, in addition to the other two. 

In the process, we picked up the background story.  It turned out they had been drinking lethal industrial spirits during a run ashore at a European port.  

Amazingly, two or three hours after I had returned to bed, the phone rang again and it was the American captain once more – informing me that he was returning to Falmouth with another dead crew member and another one becoming seriously ill.  

So Dr Dick and I went afloat once more and duly arranged an ambulance and undertaker again.  By the time this second job was completed, it was around seven o’clock in the morning.  

With nothing else that we could do, Dr Dick very kindly said: “Come home with me and I will cook you a good breakfast.”  He was true to his word – with a delicious fry-up served in his house on Boscawen Road.  



Spring seems a lifetime away right now, doesn’t it, but it’ll be here soon enough, and when it is it’s a fair bet that one of our hardy annuals will be a visit to Enys Gardens, near Penryn, to catch their breathtaking carpet of bluebells. It’s a sight well worth putting onto canvas, as I did with this acrylic painting four years ago.  Credit: teacher Jeanni Grant-Nelson. 

Friday 17 November 2023


(I could so easily make a series out of these . . . )

We recently hosted a lunch for a lovely couple who thanked us in advance by handing over some beautiful flowers on arrival in the restaurant.


Imagine how thrilled I was when, nearly three weeks later, I noticed how fresh the flowers beside our fireplace were looking.  


So I simply couldn’t resist taking a photo of them and forwarding it to said couple with the caption “STILL going strong! xx” 


Came the reply: “Wow! Someone’s looking after them well!”


I read this out to Janet (because she’s the chief flower looker-afterer here).


And HER reply was devastating!  “Well, yes,” she said. “Of course those flowers are looking good; I only bought them on Tuesday!”


And yes I did confess my gigantic senior moment to our lunch guests . . . and they thought it was hilarious, too.

Saturday 11 November 2023


There was a time in my reporting life when barely a week seemed to pass without my paying at least one visit to Falmouth Docks, in the days when it was much more newsworthy, albeit not always in a good way, than it is now.

No matter the ongoing threat to the yard’s future in a fiercely competitive market, and its instability borne of unpleasant industrial disputes, there was one fellow who was unfailingly cheerful, warm and welcoming. 


For a man who was once in a coma for nearly three months after a horrific dockyard accident, Penryner Pippy Head retained a remarkably happy disposition.


“The Lord has been good to me; it’s a blessing just to be able to get about still,” he told me when he retired in 1987.


He wasn’t kidding, as he recalled the fateful day 11 years earlier, when his life changed.


Then employed as a mason supervisor, he was working beside a ship in Falmouth’s Queen Elizabeth dry dock when the staging collapsed.  Along with a mass of concrete and planks, he fell 60 feet to the bottom of the dock.


He remembered nothing about it. The next thing he was aware of was his wife Julie visiting him in City Hospital, Truro, one Thursday afternoon. 


“I saw her approaching me in my bed and I said ‘Hello, Julie, all right?’ I think that shook her. I asked her what happened and she told me: “I think you had a little bit of an accident.’ I replied: ‘Oh well, I’ll be all right in a couple of days and be back at work on Monday.’”


It took him another eight months, in fact.  That he survived at all, let alone returned to work, was remarkable.  As he said: “How on earth I came out of it all alive, I’ll never know.”


A number of operations, and the kind of loving care from Julie for which he would be forever grateful, enabled him to make a partial recovery from his injuries. They included two broken arms, two broken ankles, a fractured skull and a split pelvis.


One of his legs was now two inches shorter than the other, but his handicap did not prevent him from accepting the challenge when the opportunity of work came his way once more.


Barry Dunstan, personnel director, told him of the vacant post of liaison officer in the yard and Pippy, despite initial apprehension about the transition from open-air to office work, successfully applied for it.


He identified one lesson, above all others, from his experience: “I used to be very impatient; I wanted to do the job before I got there. I have learnt to be patient in life.”


Thus for 11 years that cheerful manner - with a sparkle in his eye and a friendly word for everyone, including visitors such as myself on arrival – was very much part and parcel of life around the Docks offices.


All told, he worked in the yard for 41 years. His previous work included two years helping build Argal Dam, holder of Falmouth’s water supply, and in the war he served in the Royal Navy on board the submarine mother ship HMS Titania, cruiser HMS Bermuda and Battle-class destroyer HMS Gravelines.

Friday 10 November 2023


Something a little different from me here this week. Was feeling lazy and fancied a breather from the more intense stuff that my new main art project now involves. 

So I did something most un-me-like, but which my teacher, Jeanni Grant-Nelson, has occasionally suggested I should try.  That is, a RAPID job! Just letting it all flow, so to speak.  (Well, it was almost like that!) 

All just in three hours or so. I even did it on PAPER, having discovered that I’d run out of canvas, would you believe. (More on the way for birthday and Christmas, I feel sure.) 

Anyway, this golden scene was something I loved so much I felt I just had to paint it, from Marcus Jose’s photo on the We Love Cornwall Facebook page.  

Also watch this space, incidentally, for occasional “guest appearances” from other artists!