Thursday 30 April 2009

An Awfully Big Adventure

May edition of Cornwall Today - a piece about Himself....

Jonathan (Pip) Jackson has officially retired. But his life has always involved adventures, often at sea, or involving pubs and music. Now 68, he is still recovering from living ashore and being married.

He met his future wife (he calls her Flowerpot) 13 years ago. Pip was 56 to her 38 years and neither had been married or had children. But within 3 months she'd moved down to Cornwall. “I fell for her curls,” he says with a grin, “but I also wanted the adventure of being with a partner. I’d never had that before.”

Pip started his working life in London but soon decided that self employment was the way ahead. “My sister wanted me to join her in the States, but I’d always dreamt of coming to Cornwall.”

In 1960, at the age of 19, he became partner in a landscaping business, then bought a violet farm in Zelah. His brother joined him and they took over a local nursery, built a bungalow and opened a shop.

Four years later the Jackson brothers felt there was more money in speculative building, and started designing houses and landscaping the gardens. That proved profitable, but after a while Pip had wanderlust. “Sir Francis Chichester sailed round the world, followed by Robin Knox Johnston,” Pip says. “I was inspired to go sailing.”

Deciding that a working boat was suitable for cruising, in 1968 he bought St Meloris, a 28 foot wooden Falmouth oyster boat, and spent a year preparing her for sea. “There was a bet in the pub that I couldn’t sail a working boat across the Atlantic,” he recalls. “So I had to do it.” And he did, with no engine, no electrics and no experience of deep sea sailing. He did take rum, tobacco, a shotgun and two torches, one of which rusted, and the other fell overboard.

“I didn't have a radio so I pinched my brother’s Roberts radio. He’s never forgiven me,” Pip said ruefully, “and it didn’t even work at sea.”

In 1970 he left Mylor Harbour waved off by bemused family and friends, and set sail for the West Indies. 32 days later, having mended a broken mast, been becalmed, then involved in high storms, he arrived in Antigua. “I wanted to go to the Pacific, but my father was dying so I sold the boat and went home,” he says. “When word reached Mylor that I’d made it, everyone went to the pub and drank the money!”

Over the next twenty years, Pip set up numerous businesses with his brother, delivered yachts around America and in 1975, he designed and built Heritage, a 36 foot ocean going boat. But he needed money, and accepted a job in Turkey.

“I was asked to recover a British yacht found with a dead body on board,” he says nonchalantly. He ended up being chased up a river by Turkish villagers brandishing guns. “I was very frightened,” he said, “but I managed to head for sea and escaped.”

His next job involved working for a German millionaire. “He was a lovely villain but I dread to think what he was involved in,” Pip says. “I came home to sober up!”

Back home, Pip sold Heritage, made wooden model boats for the Greenwich Maritime Museum and started playing for the Quaker Hall Jazz Band.

“Playing cornet in a jazz band gives me the same adrenaline rush as sailing a well found yacht in robust conditions,” he explains. As a result, his next adventures were more sociable, and of a musical and alcoholic nature.

In 1991 the recession bit hard. But the Jackson Brothers set up a jewellery making business using tin from South Crofty, the last working mine in Cornwall. Two years later Pip fell in love with White Heather, a 32 foot working boat, and in 1994/5 he took time off to fulfil a long held ambition – to have a season oystering his own boat. “It’s physically very demanding - I lost three stone!” he says. “But I was proud to learn about this unique industry.”

In May 1996, Pip had another upheaval. “I met Flowerpot the month before mother died, and my whole life changed,” he says. Several years later, he sold his precious White Heather and married Flowerpot in Gibraltar.

So it seemed the adventurer was settling down. But Pip was diagnosed with prostate cancer, then pulmonary fibrosis. “It was a terrifying time,” says Flowerpot. “We had great support from our Oncology nurse, but the prognosis didn’t look good.”

Six months later, Pip's conditions were stabilised, and the Jackson Brothers decided to sell the tin business. Pip's next ideas were taken up by Trevor Baylis, the inventor famous for his wind-up radio. Unfortunately keeping up patents is an expensive business, and reluctantly the Jackson Brothers put that project to one side.

Now Pip’s retired he finds his days are fuller than ever. “I’ve started playing jazz again, and I'd love another boat,” he says. In the interim, he and Flowerpot have traded their car for a van so they can go exploring. “Life with Flowerpot is one big adventure!” Pip smiles. “I never know what’s going to happen next.”

Thursday 23 April 2009

Patrick Gale

First of all, today is St George's Day, Shakespeare's birthday and, most important of all, my mum's 80th birthday.

And now for all Patrick Gale fans, the following piece is in the May edition of Cornwall Today.


Patrick Gale's novels cover topics that most writers steer clear of – Alzheimer's, bipolar disorder, Quakerism and gay love affairs, to name but a few. In his latest novel, The Whole Day Through, he writes about naturism, venereology and how to handle an ageing parent.

“I don't know why I include science or medicine in my books because I'm completely unscientific,” he says. “Perhaps it's an inferiority complex as my brother and sister are doctors!” In this novel, the mother is a naturist. “I needed a plot device that made it impossible to put the mother in a home,” he explains. “It also tallied with the emerging theme of honesty and vulnerability - when you take your clothes off you can't hide anything.”

Patrick lives near Land's End on a farm with his partner, Aidan, who drew beautiful illustrations for Patrick's novel, Friendly Fire. “He's horribly gifted!” Patrick says proudly. “I'd love to collaborate with him on future books, but publishers are unwilling to pay for anything extra which is such a pity. I think illustrations add to your pleasure of the book.”

Last year Richard & Judy's Book Club selected Notes from an Exhibition, gaining Patrick 100,000 new readers. “In a way it was like my first novel,” he says. But this has meant high expectations for his next novel. “I'm very worried about second album syndrome,” he says wryly.

Patrick describes The Whole Day Through as “a bittersweet love story. Several people said I couldn't do a Brief Encounter style story because of the therapy culture now that believes we have the right to be happy. I don't quite believe that, but my challenge was to come up with a story of two modern people who think they should do the right thing.”

What will strike a chord with many older readers is Laura, who looks after her 78 year old mother, riddled with osteoporosis. Patrick drew on his own experiences tending his mother after his father died. “What fascinates me is how our social behaviour is going to have to adapt. More and more single people are looking after elderly parents and also wanting a love life – how do they cope?”

The mother in this novel is a keen gardener; an interest that was passed on to Patrick from his own parents. “It's a visceral pleasure – weeding gives me an intense sense of calm and pleasure.” And of course, it's a good antidote to the solitary, sedentary and slow nature of writing. “With a pair of secateurs and a trowel you can make a difference in a few hours, whereas with a novel it takes much longer.”

Patrick is also a talented musician and chairman of the St Endellion Summer Festival, held annually in Port Isaac. He performs in amateur orchestras as a singer, pianist and cellist, and sings with the choir at the St Endellion festival, all of which takes up a lot of time, but is another necessity. “Music is like my life blood,” he says slowly. “I have a permanent soundtrack running through my head. It evokes expressions that are beyond words; it draws things out of you.”

Another vital part of Patrick's life is his adoptive Cornwall, but living on a farm, he is well aware of the real Cornwall. “It's been so mythologised and romanticised that it's fun to play with the gap between the romantic idea of it and the reality of it,” he explains. “On a practical level it's a very useful device – you can bring a Londoner to Cornwall and expose their follies.”

Patrick is clearly contented with his life, combining a mixture of writing, farming, music and gardening. “I come from a family of pessimists, but I've often thought that I'm a depressive with an optimist's habit,” he says with a smile. “If you're aware of the different sides to your personality you can see when one is getting the upper habit. Novelists get to know themselves very well – you don't need therapy!”

Patrick will appear at the Du Maurier Festival on May 14th 2009
The Whole Day Through is published by Fourth Estate, May 2009
Gentleman's Relish will be published in December 2009

Friday 17 April 2009


Patience is not a virtue of mine. I couldn't fish like this fellow - I'd be bored rigid and start fidgeting very quickly.

Right now I need patience. The gum infection I had months ago is still making me very tired on occasions, when I least expect it. I can be going along fine and then - bang - it's as if someone has pulled the plug on my energy and I have none. I feel weepy and useless; fed up with not having the energy that I've taken for granted all my life.

Then last night I met someone who's had the same thing - also following a gum infection. She advised more rest, not to push myself so much, eat well and gentle exercise. Most of which I do. She also suggested a tonic that had helped her. And knowing that she's much better now reassured me no end. I will get there!

There's so much I want to do, and not having the energy to do it is frustrating.
But until I improve, I must rest sometimes, when I want to be writing; lie down when I want to be having a five mile hike. I must learn how to relax more and enjoy it - after all, I must remember, as writers we're always writing even when we're not.

But if you can, send a little patience my way!

Saturday 11 April 2009

Sluts Together

I was talking to a friend the other day about compatibility and how she has nothing in common with her partner at all, though she loves him dearly. That got me thinking. “Come to think of it,” I said, “I have nothing in common with Himself either.
He likes jazz – I don't much. He loves boating – I don't. I love being outside and walking – he will take the car whenever possible, and is quite happy poodling around indoors (unless on a boat). I am quite sociable whereas he'd sooner be by himself – or with me. I love going to the pictures, out with friends – he'd rather watch a DVD at home.”

I stopped – because the list could go on ad infinitum, and wondered what exactly we DID have in common. Then I got it. “A sense of humour!”

This was illustrated yesterday prior to the arrival of my mother which necessitates a big spring clean (well, tidy and hoover) which is a most rare occurrence in the Flowerpot household.

“We must have a big tidy up,” said Himself, sitting down with the paper.

“No, no,” I said, not looking up from my book. “I dusted last week so it can't be bad.”

Silence. We looked at each other and laughed and laughed until Himself was crying and I had stomach ache.

So that's something else we have in common. We're both sluts.

Monday 6 April 2009

How not to walk the Coastal Footpath

Last week I had a commission from my editor to do a walk to coincide with a charity walk round the coastal footpath in order to raise money for a children's hospice.

It sounded simple - like the walks I do every month. I had even been sent a designated route which I checked on the map. Then I picked up a friend with another mad Jack Russell - and off we set.

Trouble was, arriving at our destination, the hospice site, which I'd been asked to include in the walk was a) on a main road, b) nowhere near a footpath and c) had no parking within a 15 minute drive. Not a good start.

We found a car park down a very steep hill, climbed up and found a public footpath that led to the site - sort of - and then had to walk back, down another very steep hills, to our starting point. Confused? So were we.

But the sun had come out by now, the dogs were having fun and by this time we were on Porthpean beach. The first 20 minutes were great - a beautiful afternoon, a long beach and the tide out, the dogs having a wonderful time - then a steep climb up steps to the top of the cliff. There we found a sign saying Coastal Footpath Closed. Follow Diversions.

So the prettiest part of the walk, along the headland, looking down onto sea the colour of the Mediterranean, and beaches to match, was not to be. After three false starts (the diversion wasn't clearly marked) we finally found ourselves walking through a housing estate.

This led to a main road, to another road, past two building sites, and finally - an hour later - to our designation. Only to find a sign saying, "Bar Closed. Please go to the pub down the road."

Finally we did get a drink and sat on the harbour with our lemonades and watched the sun twinkling on the water like sequins.

Then we made our way back up a very long steep hill back to the van. Speechless with exhaustion (walking on tarmac is so much harder than on grass). Even the dogs were tired, and hadn't had much of a run because they'd been on the lead for most of it.

The entire walk took 5 hours - 2 hours walking, plus 3 hours driving, covering 60 miles. And after all that I couldn't use it for the magazine, because who'd want to go on a 2 hour walk round a housing estate?

Ever get the feeling you should have stayed at home?

Thursday 2 April 2009

The Wedding Party

Just to let you all know about the launch of another journalists's book - sounds a good read!

THE WEDDING PARTY by SOPHIE KING. Published by Hodder and Stoughton, £7.99.

THE WEDDING PARTY is seen through the eyes of all four characters in the countdown to the wedding (nine months; eight months; seven…) The only question is, will it actually take place? And who will end up marrying who?

Drawing on experience
The author prides herself on the authenticity of her novels, underpinning them with knowledge and experience. Some months after writing THE WEDDING PARTY, she got married again – to the best man from her first wedding that took place nearly 30 years earlier. He is also godfather to her three children. Her new husband, who has never been married or had children, lives in Newcastle during the week so they are living apart together.

THE WEDDING PARTY is Sophie King’s fifth novel. Her previous books are The School Run, Mums@Home, Second Time Lucky and The Supper Club.

Sophie King is the pen name of journalist, Jane Bidder. In addition to writing novels full time she also teaches creative writing at Oxford University and is Writer in Residence at a high security male prison.

Competitions to win copies of THE WEDDING PARTY and a fabulous two-night stay for two at the luxurious Champneys (worth over £650) can be found on