Wednesday 27 January 2010

The Accidental Cartoonist

We are both safely back from the Sheffield trip none the worse I'm glad to report. Boat is in abeyance as on second viewing he has realised there is More To Do than he'd realised, and having spent most of his life doing up boats, has decided he just wants to sail them now. So he's looking for a Plan B. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, meet a really special cartoonist - in February's Cornwall Today, out now.

Nick Brennan, 48, has been a prolific cartoonist for the past 18 years, famous for his Blinky character in the Dandy and various comic strips for the Beano, including Crazy for Daisy. But apart from Art 'O' Level, he has no artistic training and never intended to become a cartoonist

“I was a mechanical engineer, working for Rolls Royce in Bristol,” he says, in a quiet, laconic voice, “and then my wife saw some cartoons I’d drawn and said, ‘why aren’t you doing this for a living?’ It had never crossed my mind – I did them for myself.”

Nick and Fran met at a beer festival in 1984 and when he decided to try his hand at cartooning, they moved from Bristol to Scotland. “I didn’t realise at the time that we were 20 odd miles from Dundee, the home of the mighty D. C. Thompson, where the Dandy and Beano are published,” Nick says. “I went along to see the editor of the Dandy with my portfolio and from there I got the occasional half page and built it up over the years to regular work. Now I get a lot of commissions from the internet.”

Nick was originally inspired by cartoonists such as Charles Schultz, Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman, “but I’m not very interested in the political side of things,” he smiles. “I hope to just bring a bit of fun into the world now and again.”

His cartoons for the Beano and Dandy are determined by a script; but for private commissions, people ask him to draw things for them. “Some are very specific,” he says, but the process is far from simple. “Usually people have an idea of what they want, I have an idea for a script and the ideas bounce between us until we get down to what they actually want, which is sometimes different to what they think they want!

“I send some roughs for them to look at and if they like them, I do some more detailed roughs, then the inked version, then it all gets coloured and sent off. If they don’t like it, I change it.” Nick’s wife, who went to art college, colours up the cartoons for Nick because he is colour blind. “I also use Fran as a sounding board – she’ll say if something is wrong,” he adds.

The time consuming part of the process is thinking up the ideas. “A lot of people don’t realise it’s not the actual drawing that takes time, it’s coming up with the idea,” says Nick. “It might entail me staring out of the window for a day. But once I get an idea, I write it down, even if it’s rubbish. One idea triggers another, and it’s all about training your brain to think in that way and try and make connections with things that hopefully people will find funny.”

The frustrating part of Nick’s work, he finds, is when he knows what he wants to draw but can’t get it down on paper. “The opposite is also frustrating - when you don’t know what you want to do and stare at a blank piece of paper.”

Most of Nick’s work is aimed at children and he has found that sensitivities have changed over the years. “It’s become much more lavatorial, which is of course a great tradition of British cartoons. Lots of gross things for children like snot and farts and bogeys now! Years ago I was chatting to the editor of The Dandy who complained about one of the other artist’s work because it was so rude. He painstakingly Tippexed all the farts! It’s totally changed.”

The main thing to avoid is encouraging racism or bullying. “It has to be inclusive because life’s no good if you’re miserable,” Nick explains. “The other thing is showing anything that could be deemed dangerous that children might emulate.”
Nick’s workshops are very popular with children. He holds regular sessions at Falmouth Art Gallery and recently held a workshop at the Fal River Festival. He has also collaborated with the staff at the Royal Cornwall Museum to create a comic aimed at inspiring children about the collections there. “The first comic was about the Cornish collection, and you can pick a copy up at the museum, or see it online at,” says Nick.
He admits to being petrified by his first workshop. “I was worried that that were bored - they were so quiet. But a teacher friend of mine said, ‘no - quiet’s good! That means they’re interested and doing it!’ It turned out fine because they were really keen,” he says with a grin.

During a workshop Nick might take in some old work from the Dandy to show children that it’s drawn much bigger than it’s reproduced. “They have to bear that in mind and not wonder why they can’t draw it so well,” Nick says. “I go through some basics about drawing and various techniques you can use.” Usually the workshops have a theme which, if at a museum, is usually related to an exhibition that is on at the time.

“One of my workshops tied in with Henry Tuke’s paintings,” he says. “We looked at the way he uses light and shade, and tried to get the children to think about the bare minimum they needed to put in to give ‘a sense of place’. We then drew some pictures and decided what the background needed to include.”

Most workshops usually last for two hours but Nick’s never had any problems working with children. “They’re volunteers so they tend to be pretty keen.” Nick smiles. “Usually they don’t want to stop and I get told off by the gallery staff!”

Working with children can be incredibly rewarding. “Sometimes they draw little cartoons for me,” Nick says. “Once we’ve finished I have to sign any of the things I’ve drawn so they can take them home and put them on their bedroom walls.”

For any budding cartoonists, Nick acknowledges that there are fewer opportunities nowadays. “There aren’t so many kids’ comics. Political cartoons are a bigger market but there aren’t many places that take cartoons these days and the ones you do find are so inundated with stuff it’s difficult to get in. Practise your craft and persevere,” is Nick’s advice. “You need to get a foot in the door and keep trying. There is the internet of course and then the world’s your oyster.”

Fran is from Cornwall so they moved back here eight years ago, and 2 years ago acquired a very beautiful border collie called Pearle. “The pubs are nicer down here,” Nick says. “I love the scenery, the gig rowing – you get addicted you know.” They have both rowed at the World Championships at Scilly - Nick rows with Devoran Gig Club - they both enjoy exploring the coast with Pearle, and drinking real ale. His local, the Seven Stars in Falmouth, not only provides good Skinners and Sharps beer but the landlord, the Reverend Barrington Bennetts, had a major role in the Beano one year.

“Barrington’s birthday card came about because three things happened,” Nick says. “He was 70, had done 50 years behind the bar and it was 10 years since he’d been ordained as a priest. Having designed the card, we talked to the Beano editor, asked if we could put Barrington in for a bit of fun and he said yes. When we showed Barrington the published version he didn’t believe us at first – the Beano was sold out in Falmouth that week!” Nick also made postcards of the birthday card, and the original Beano page is in the Falmouth Art Gallery.

It is clear that here is one contented cartoonist. “I intend to keep doing this till I drop at my desk!” he says. “I love drawing silly pictures, and it beats engineering. I can escape into my own little world and draw people with big noses.”

Nick is also available for advertising copywriting and greeting cards.
He can be contacted on 07866 207 912;
or email

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Big Trouble

We're talking trouble here. As in, marriage in trouble.
Himself is in love. Again.
The recent object of his affections is not me, not Mollie – but a woman in Gweek. She is 25 foot long, she's called Golf Kilo. And she lives in the boatyard.

To be fair, Himself has always loved boats first, way before we met, but he had to sell his last darling about six years ago. Since then he has tried to distract himself with music (another love), making model aeroplanes, and countless other projects. He even decided he was going to write a novel (no comment there) – but at the heart of it all is a man in love with the sea. It really is in his blood.

Last week while I was walking Molls I watched a boat go out to sea, thinking, “Pip should be doing that, instead of sitting at home prowling the internet looking at boats”.

Well, the next day we had a phone call from a company interested in buying his engraving machine. They rang back on Saturday to reinforce this offer, and to talk about Payment and Delivery.

If they buy this machine, it would pay for most of Golf Kilo. So you see why this is so important.

It's now Wednesday and we're still awaiting the email so that he can send an invoice in order that they can send a cheque. I've told him On No Account is he to take the machine up there until they've paid up.

And that's the other thing. In order to get a bit more money, he's going to drive the machine all the way up to Sheffield, and sleep in the van overnight. He's nearly 70, has bad lungs, feels the cold terribly because of his cancer medication, and hasn't been feeling well for about a month now. But he refuses to go and stay in a B&B. I've offered to pay for it, I've threatened divorce, but he is Adamant. So what can a girl do?

Oh, and the other thing. He let slip that he's actually made an offer on the boat already.......

But he has a purpose again. He's a Man with a Mission. He has a smile on his face.

And he's in love.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

The Rise and Rise of Miss Peapods

We have a great Bohemian style cafe near us in Penryn which has recently won Gold in the 2009 Cornish Tourism Awards. We usually go there for a coffee after singing, but I had to get down there and check it out officially... in January's Cornwall Today.

When Alice Marston's husband began working on the Jubilee Wharf complex in Penryn, she soon saw that, given the workshops and flats planned, there was an opening for a cafe. In November 2006 Miss Peapods Kitchen Cafe opened and since then has gone from strength to strength. “The cafe reflects my tastes,” Alice explains. “I have a young family but I still like to go out and listen to music, go dancing, watch films and eat nice food. These are all the things we do here.”

Alice set up Miss Peapods on a tiny budget. “I pursued the whole idea of a sustainable project,” she says in her quiet voice. “So the furniture is from the Salvation Army, the crockery from car boot sales, and the kitchen equipment was secondhand. Even the floor came from a London club.”

But the cafe isn't another tourist trap. “We have a very robust trade in the winter – in fact it's better out of season,” she says. “We can't compete with the beach on a sunny day.” Although there is a large decked area outside where visitors can sit and watch the boats moored up in Penryn river. There is also wi-fi and a plentiful supply of newspapers.

Alice, 35, worked as a renal nurse in London for 10 years, but her love of food led her to cater at Glastonbury and other festivals. “I like being in a little merry band of pirates where you all work very hard,” she says. “Nursing training is a real discipline – that's why I'm able to do what I do now. There are a lot of crossover skills: management, working with people and getting things done perfectly.”

The policy at Miss Peapods is that good food shouldn't cost the earth, so it is sourced with priority to local, organic and Fairtrade ingredients. Suppliers include Rosuick farm on the Lizard, and Trevarthen for meat. Organic free range eggs come from Boswin Farm in Penryn, Origin Coffee from Constantine and beer from Skinners. Westcountry Suppliers and Long Close Farm, Flushing supply the fresh fruit and vegetables.
“I'd like to point out that we're not vegetarian and never have been,” says Alice firmly. “I was particularly gratified when we won the award because one of the judges had had a steak sandwich! That spoils the myth that we're veggie, though we do look after the vegetarians very well.”
Like the cafe itself, Miss Peapods' staff are slightly unusual. “The food always looks great because all the staff have art degrees - we have a button maker, an illustrator and a ceramacist!” says Alice.
And their culinary reputation has spread far and wide. “We do a special thing with our mushrooms and beans and someone emigrated to Canada and emailed me asking what we did,” she continues. “I said, 'I want a letter from the Home Office to establish that you've actually emigrated before I tell you!' ” Other popularities are Sunday roasts, toasted ciabattas and home made soups.

“We have a rustic Mediterranean theme that runs through our specials board using Cornish ingredients – so we might have Cornish rabbit with home made gnocchi, or a rabbit ragout.” But Alice's favourites are the cakes: “The Lemon Drizzle is pretty special!”

The menu is selected according to what's in season. “We all went on a foraging course with Fat Hen and learned lots of things and that's filtered through to the menu,” says Alice. “So we now have a Cornish Coastal night, an Autumnal one and one with Stargazy Pie....”

Food and Film evenings have proved very popular, and on Friday and Saturday evenings, Miss Peapods is transformed. “We light all the candles, turn the lights down low and have fairy lights outside,” says Alice. “We get more of the working crowd that live locally and it's a really broad mix – children, grannies, occasionally great grannies, and the shared thing is a love of good food and music. We're not a student haunt though they do come and see what we're doing.”

Miss Peapods has become known for providing an eclectic mix of entertainment. “I know a lot of people who are into music,” says Alice. “If it has merit and good musicianship then there's usually an audience. We can bring very different music to the same audience because people trust us.” She laughs. “There's a really big Rockabilly contingent in the woodwork down here and they come out with their combs and quiffs! We also have electro girl punk and local bands like Three Daft Monkeys and The Eyelids.”

Cabaret is also popular, and in January there will be a Soul/Funk '80s disco evening, a Folk evening and local band The Busketeers playing. “There's a lot of talent in Penryn and we've become a conduit for this type of thing,” explains Alice.

Setting up a cafe in an outpost like Jubliee Wharf was always going to be a gamble, but one that has clearly paid off. “It's special being in Penryn,” Alice observes. “The people who've got the units are very supportive and the barges off the quay have all sorts of artistic activity going on – a film set, theatre costumes etc, so we meet all kinds of interesting people.”

Alice looks out of the window at the Friday afternoon drizzle. “I originally thought that if we did a good thing, people would come – that was the confidence of naivety!” she says with a smile. “Penryn's changed such a lot in the past few years. Now I'll keep on fine tuning: keep the menu fresh, keep looking after the staff and having new ideas. It's been a lot of hard work but receiving an award has consolidated all that.”

Miss Peapods Kitchen Cafe
Jubilee Wharf, Penryn,
01326 374424

Best Cafe 2009 in the Cornish Tourism Awards

Open Tues, Wed, Thurs & Sun 10-4
Fri & Sat 10 – late
Miss Peapods is closed for 2 weeks after Christmas and New Year.

Thursday 7 January 2010

The spirit of Friendship

Following on from my last post, I was very privileged to meet Pat Peters, who'd been a Land Girl and has written about her experiences. See pictures of her and this piece in January Cornwall Today.

Pat Peters is a good role model for us all: a hard working, independent lady with a great sense of humour. She left school at the age of 14 and went to work in a factory making greatcoats for the army as soon as war started. “I volunteered for the Women's Land Army because you had to volunteer or go into the services – and I didn't want to salute anyone!” she says with a twinkle. “And I'd always liked the land anyway.”

Pat was the last of eight siblings to leave London. Her oldest brother had already died, her next brother was injured, the third brother was in RAF in America training to be a pilot, and Pat's 19 year old sister was working in an ammunitions factory in Coventry. The three youngest members were evacuated to Devon, Pat went to Cornwall and her mother stayed in London. “We wrote regularly,” says Pat. “As soon as we got to Cornwall, we went into town and wrote postcards.”

She arrived in Cornwall on 30th August 1943 at age 17. “The thing I remember most is St Michael's Mount,” she says in her quiet voice, with an undercurrent of laughter. “We came by train and thought - what was that? We'd never seen anything it before.”

Pat joined a gang of twenty Land Girls, all from very different backgrounds, but they all got on very well. “There wasn't one argument between us,” she says proudly, then laughs. “We argued with the foreman but not with the girls – we stuck up for one another. We were all in the same boat.” Here Pat met Kay and Pauline, though Kay eventually went back to London and Pauline went to another farm in Kent. But these best friends visited each other regularly and kept in touch for the rest of their lives.

“We learned a lot of camaraderie in the war,” explains Pat. “There was friendship wherever you went.” She adds sadly, “Kay would have loved this – I really regret that she's not here to share this.” But another voice from the past has just emerged. “The farmer's wife where we were billeted has got in touch,” says Pat with a smile. “She's 93 and still lives on the farm that her older daughter runs now. I'm longing to see them.”

Most of us find it difficult to imagine wartime life. “What I loved most was the freedom,” Pat says. With many people dead, dying and risking their lives every day, that freedom must have been intensified. “Once we got back from work, time was our own, whereas the forces were very regimented. They had to salute for their wages, did you know?” She laughs. “I thought, after a week's work? No way - we've worked for that!”

There was no denying it was hard work. “The worst thing was getting wet and cold,” says Pat ruefully. “If the cattle lorry that took us to and from work wasn't around, we had to sit in the hedge and, oh it was terrible.”

Once they had finished work, they found plenty to amuse themselves. “There were no dances till the Americans came,” Pat says. “But there was a little cinema – called the flea pit by the locals. Or we'd roam around town or go and have a drink at one of the pubs.” But some, like the landlady of the Cornish Arms, didn't approve of Land Girls. “Just because you came from London they thought you were no good,” Pat explains.

Pat was fortunate in being billeted on a farm where the food was good. “Mrs Gill made pasties and sponges, and if she was short on potatoes we used to stuff them down our trousers and bring them home!” But the other girls didn't do so well. “They had fish paste sandwiches that were so bad they threw them to the seagulls and went hungry.”

For many, like Pat, the war let women into a man's world and they never looked back. “Women only started wearing trousers during the war,” she explains. This was a massive breakthrough in the emancipation of women, who for the first time were allowed not only to wear trousers, but to do men's work. So Pat has kept her breeches, dungarees and milking jacket as a reminder of happy times.

Pat grew to love Cornwall, and one day, a young farmer called Gordon asked her to a dance in Helston. Afterwards, Pat wasn't sure about getting into a car with a strange man so she asked if she could drive the car. “I could drive a tractor but I'd never driven a car,” she says. “When I got back to Joe Pascoe's farm, I pressed the accelerator and the brake together and went straight into a wall!”

However, the dent in the wall didn't stop their romance, and married life for Pat and Gordon started off at Polwin Manor farm with Gordon's brother and his wife. “We moved after 3 years,” says Pat. “When my oldest was young there was water coming in one door and out the other. That was terrible. I thought he was going to die. That was the only time I wanted to go back to London and my mum.”

They moved to the Helston area where Gordon managed four farms, and Pat has stayed in the area ever since, though sadly Gordon died in 1998. Now a proud great grandmother who has worked incredibly hard all her life, Pat is well aware of how lucky her offspring are. “We left school and worked straight away. There was no dole in our day,” she says firmly. “Nowadays they take everything for granted. They have money in their hands when they leave school and I do think that's wrong.”

She is also sad at how standards have dwindled. “I would teach youngsters respect for one thing,” says Pat. “All they seem to do is go out and cause damage. We never looked to break things or hurt people. We just didn't.” She looks up and smiles. “The worst thing we ever did was knock on someone's door and run!”

The idea for writing a book came about gradually. “I used to write a lot of poetry,” says Pat. “And I'd always wanted to write a book – things popped up and I used to write them down in an old notebook.” But Kay and Pauline helped Pat. “It's thanks to them that this has happened,” says Pat. ”I should have thanked them for jogging my memory and put that in the book.”

Like most people, Pat found publication very difficult. “I sent the book to various people who all said they liked it but no one took it up,” she says. She made it longer, put in more description – and still had no luck. “After four or five rejections, I thought the book was no good, so it stuck in that drawer,” she says. But then she met Angie Butler, who was captivated by her story and helped her find a publisher. “I wanted to thank Angie in the book as well,” says Pat.

Cornwall became home for Pat many years ago and she has never looked back. “When I used to go to London to see family and friends I couldn't get back quick enough.” She smiles. “I love the quietness, and the greenery. There's a farm up the road and I used to walk up there because I love the smell of dung! It might sound silly, but it's a farm smell.”

While farming has shaped Pat's life, it's her special friendships that have meant so much to her. “You've got to have a sense of humour and look at things positively,” she says firmly. “I hope anyone who reads the book has a good laugh. But keeping friendships is the most important thing.”

A perfect example of this was when Pat spilt a bottle of Kay's precious perfume. “I knew she'd be furious,” says Pat. “There was a blue box of perfume, soap and talc and we'd never seen anything like that.” Despite the spillage, they made up and remained staunch friends, but years later when Kay came to stay, Pat decided to get her own back. “I hid a bottle on the dressing table and on the box I wrote a card saying,
Welcome! You have my permission to use this 'notorious' perfume but
Like the perfume, our friendship lingers on.
Yours WLA pal
Pat x

Land Girls Gang Up by Pat Peters £7.95
Old Pond Publishing