Magical Mystery Tour

My sister has the loveliest hair in all the world; it is thick and silky and always looks perfect, except for the time she had it permed and looked like a poodle. Unfortunately for Angela, we had a family portrait during her perm phase, so her poodle-do has been immortalized for all to see on our parent’s wall.

The portrait is a bone of contention in the family, with all us kids fighting over who will get it when our parents pop their clogs. Angela and I insist it should go to Mathew, but his wife Emma won’t have a bar of it. To make matters worse, someone had the bright idea of having a second portrait taken 20 years later, so now there are two in the family estate (by estate, I mean a silver-plated soup tureen and two portraits).

Lucky for Angela, her perm grew out. I’d dearly love to show you a picture of what it looked like, but I am too scared – Angela might have a pretty face, but she could strip the paint off the Sistine Chapel with just one look. It’s fair to say the whole family are scared of her (except Dad). Her husband Neil pretends he’s not, but I liked to see him have the nerve to post a photo of her perm.

The only picture of Angela I dare post.

Not only does Angela have lovely hair, she is also clever and kind and lives in Cambridgeshire with Neil and their talking cat – I’m not lying, it once said Hello (Angela heard it, but Neil denies all knowledge of the incident). The rest of the clan live on the Isle of Man, which is great for Angela – as she’s close enough to visit, but far enough away to not be bothered by us all. It also means it’s a bit of a novelty when she does come over, and we each, in our own way, try to make her trip special. Mathew and Emma provide a first-rate drinking service, popular with all their guests, which consists of sitting around and getting trolleyed; Ma has home cooking and Dad for entertainment; and me – without a fondness for drink or an aging patriarch at home – I have to be creative. As such, for the trip in question, I decided I would take her on a Magical Mystery Tour – when I say I, I mean Mathew, as I don’t have a car, and Angela is too fancy for a wheelbarrow.

The Island has lots of nice places – like Castletown, Laxey, the Sound and, of course, Peel. If Ma had her way, we would definitely be going to Peel, because she is from Peel, and takes everyone who visits us, there, even if they’ve been 100 times before (which Angels probably has).

While all these locations have their merits, there is only one place on the Island filled with Magical Mystery, and that is the North, specifically Jurby – which boasts a prison, motor museum and topnotch shopping.

Harrods of the North

The evening before the tour, Angela availed herself of Mathew and Emma’s drinking service, and, when she and Mathew arrived at my place blurry eyed the next morning, it appeared she had made the most of it. Not to worry thought I, my fun-filled tour would soon jolly her along. After collecting Ma, the four of us set off for the first stop on the itinerary.

Poo Beach

Poo Beach is where the North’s detritus is pumped out to sea – sadly, not far enough to avoid the occasional wash back. To remedy this shortfall, a new location has been found, and work on a new pumping system has begun. First, however, the old system has to be dug up.

As fascinating as this digging up process may be, it wasn’t actually what I had taken Angela to see. Rather, Poo Beach is also the site of a recently discovered World War II bomb. No doubt, showing someone a bomb would be the highlight of any tour, but, unfortunately for Angela, the Poo Beach bomb exploded some weeks before and there was nothing to see. Still, I pointed out the general vicinity of where it was found, and she seemed very impressed.

Who wouldn’t be impressed!

As we continued on our journey, I handed Angela her in-car entertainment…

I know what you’re thinking: how was she meant to find a wallaby on the Isle of Man? Well, it so happens, a pair of wallabies escaped from the Wildlife Park in the 1970’s, and estimates are, there are 100 or so roaming the north. There are sightings of them now and then, and rumor has it they’re gigantic. It is also rumored they are working for the government (indeed, a certain fellow, who shall remain nameless, was knocked off his bike by one, which did rather seem like a public service).

Angela, thrilled with the chance to win a prize – which, unbeknown to her, was only a KitKat (due the Magical Mystery Tour Company’s liquidity constraints) – managed to find a sheep and a cow before we arrived at our next destination.

Northern Civic Amenity Site

The Northern Civic Amenity Site (fancy for dump) was opened in 2012 at Balladoole Farm, next to, coincidently, the new Poo Beach pumping facility – otherwise known as the Northern Sewage Treatment Works. As far as dumps go, it’s pretty flash; it is always neat and tidy, with separate bins and skips for all kinds of crap, and a section where you can leave your fancy crap for other folk to riffle through.

I thought Angela would like to go there, not least because the surrounding countryside is so pretty (not that she noticed, as she was too busy looking for a Wallaby). In order to give her an authentic experience, I brought a bag of cans for her to recycle. Strange to relate, she seemed underwhelmed by the whole affair and didn’t even join me for a riffle through other people’s crap. It was her loss, as I found a pretty pottery bowl, that matched one I had at home.

For free!!!

Ballagennie Visitors Centre

Next we made an unscheduled stop at the Bellagennie Visitors Centre. It wasn’t on the itinerary, but Mathew said it was the scene of some goings on in his friend Chris Ewan’s book, Dark Tides, and we should stop for a nosy. Once there, we asked Mathew what precisely those goings on were, and he said that someone met someone there and then something happened in the clump of trees in the distance. Not exactly a Times Book Review, still, we all piled out the car and took a photo near the Visitors Centre.

Say cheese. Mathew!

Isle of Man Prison

The Jurby Hilton, as it is known locally, is home to the Island’s scallywags and ne’er do-wells. Situated in rolling countryside, affording fabulous views, the prison is a vast improvement on the old Victorian one, which was so cramped, inmates had to go home on weekends. Building for the new prison began 2005, and was due for completion in December 2007 – but it rained and then it was Christmas, so it opened in August 2008.

The prison received a shakeup in 2011, after an inspection revealed inmates were subject to boredom and rampant drug use; on the plus side, they got on very well with the guards. To counter this, and to combat boredom, inmates can now take art classes, earn a degree or learn a trade, and have an X-Box in their cells (though only 360’s – prison being punitive and all).

Sadly, the prison is not open to tourists, so we just sat in the carpark. Still, I could tell Angela thought it was pretty cool.

We can’t all go to Disneyland!

Isle of Man Motor Museum

Next we went to the Motor Museum. Opened in 2015, the Museum – covering an area of 70,000 sq ft – is home to 150 motorbikes and 150 motor vehicles, including a Greyhound Bus and a fire engine. Unfortunately, the price of the entry tickets far exceeded the Magical Mystery Tour Company budget of one KitKat, so we had to make do with looking in the window as we drove past – twice as in happens, because we got lost.

Jurby Junk

Next stop was the must have Island Shopping Experience: Jurby Junk. With the clue in the name, a whole heap of junk can be found there. Locals recommend tucking your trousers in your socks as a form of affordable flea repellent; and, if the smell of cat pee is not to your liking, a peg for your nose is advisable. Apart from that, there are some real treasures waiting to be unearthed in the cluttered aisles, where hoarding is artfully wed to commerce.

Now, I wouldn’t say Angela is a snob (at least not in earshot), but she is definitely more boutique than bargain when it comes to shopping. Nonetheless, I was perplexed she wasn’t excited when we drove into the Jurby Junk car park; rather, if I recall, shook her head, rolled her eyes and refused to go in (something she pobably deeply regrets, as Jurby Junk has since gone out of business). Still, she soon perked up when Ma bought her a vintage (read tatty) Ladybird Book on computers.

Dad’s Allotment

Our last stop, before heading back to Ramsey for refreshments, was Dad’s allotment – where he had spent the morning pottering, rather than join us on the Magical Mystery Tour. Dad has grown vegetables since I can remember, and has had his current allotment for the last 10 years. It’s a wee ramshackle idyll; with its lush vegetation and clean country air, it’s no wonder Dad spends most of his free time there.

Dad in his element

My favourite thing about Dad’s allotment is seeing Quackers the duck. Quackers and her friend Nomad showed up there a couple of summers ago and made it their home. Soon after, Nomad came to a sticky end (thanks to some polecat goings on). Quakers remained, making friends with the gardeners, especially Dad. She always waddles over and says hello when he arrives, and enjoys eating out of his hand.

Sadly, at the time of writing, Quakers has been promoted to glory.

The Mitre Hotel

Having bid goodbye to Dad and Quackers, we headed back to Ramsey for refreshments at the Mitre Hotel. Situated in the heart of town, and sprawled over 3 floors, the Mitre is the day drinker’s paradise. With comfy seats, a pleasant view of the Harbour and fine ales on tap, one can away fritter away one’s dole money in no time.

Matt, thrilled to be on such a magical tour!

Ange seemed pensive as she sipped her pint of lemonade; whether it was sadness that the Magical Mystery Tour was over, or the effects of her enthusiastic availment Mathew and Emma’s drinking service the night before, I can’t be sure. Either way, to cheer her up, I presented her with the KitKat – even though she had failed to find all the things on the sheet, the wallaby and skeleton having remained elusive.

Once refreshed, we took a stroll through Ramsey town, then said goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Ma would like it noted for the record that the pictured shopping trolley is not hers – it’s mine!

All and all, the tour was a great success, as I am sure Angela would agree. So, the next time you visit the Island, and fancy the non-stop excitement of a Magical Mystery Tour, be sure to drop me a line!

Ellan Vannin

Ellan Vannin is Manx Gaelic for Isle of Man

The imagery of this collage is taken from the line in Eliza Craven Green’s poem:

“My own dear Ellan Vannin with its green hills by the sea.”

In the upper left corner is a pair of wallabies. In the 1960’s two red-necked wallabies (native to Australia and Tasmania) escaped from the Curraghs Wildlife Park in the North of the Island. Free to roam in an expansive habitat and with no natural predators or competition for food, the wallabies thrived and multiplied. It is estimated that over 120 wild wallabies live on the island today. Although most live in and around the Curraghs, there have been sightings as far south as Braaid. Far from being invasive, the wallabies play a vital role in keeping wild grassland under control, which has a positive impact on other animals.

Ellan Vannin – 22″x30″ hand-cut collage

Ellan Vannin (detail.1)

Ellan Vannin (detail.2)

Ellan Vannin (detail.3)

The Garden

22″ x 30″ hand-cut collage

Commissioned by the Head of Tutorial & Admissions at Girton College, Cambridge.

This collage is based on the theory that there once existed in old Europe a matriarchal society that worshipped the divine feminine (or Great Goddess) – a time when peace and wisdom prevailed. The imagery used recalls the symbolism of the Great Goddess (inc. the bird, snake, bull and various flora), as described in the work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Although Gimbutas’ work is criticised for its idealism and unsubstantiated conclusions, her vision of a matriarchal world is inspiring nonetheless; a world where the life-giving and life-sustaining powers of woman are revered, where the earth is respected, and where life is lived in harmony with nature free from war.

The Garden (detail.a)

The Garden (detail.b)

The Garden (detail.c)

The Garden (detail.d)

The Garden (detail.e)

The Garden (full)



The Court House – IOM Art Festival 2019

The Sapphire Coast, NSW Australia


12″x12″ hand-cut collage

Before the British commandeered Australia for use as an open prison and began sending its undesirables – from petty thieves to Irish political activists – the Sapphire Coast was home to the Yuin people (a collective name that designates several distinct tribes); people who’d lived in harmony with land and sea for over 30,000 years, taking little from it and certainly never destroying it. The first European sighting of the coast’s original inhabitants was recorded in the journal of Captain James Cook – to the British, a celebrated explorer and note-taking coastal cartographer of land the Empire would seize by fair means or foul (mostly foul); and to the first people of Australia, the breath of a leviathan so mighty, it would descend upon their land and destroy their way of life in what was a complete and often brutal takeover.

In less than 200 years from Cook’s 1788 sighting, the Yuin population of this area was reduced by 95%, through a combination of killing, disease and displacement. It is an incalculable travesty, one that can never be redressed.

I recently spent time on the Sapphire Coast – in a beautiful and mystical place called, Kalaru. While I was there, I could feel the land, sea and stars yearn for their gentle inhabitants and the symbiotic relationship that existed between them. I made this collage to express that feeling.


12″x12″ hand-cut collage

North of Kalaru, in the Mimosa National Park, is a place called Aragunnu. There you can find one of the Sapphire Coast’s largest middens. A midden, or occupation site, acted as a repository for shells and bone fragments. A place where a given tribe would leave the remnants of what they had eaten, so the next people to visit would know what kind of food was available in the area, thereby ensuring a greater chance of survival. The midden at Aragunnu is 30 metres long and as much 7 meters deep. It is considered sacred to the Yuin People.

Sadly, I did not visit Aragunnu; rather, I stayed at our holiday house making the Kalaru collage (the 1st in this series). However, my friend went there and took lots of photos and told me all about the midden, which she knew I’d love. Despite not seeing it myself, I wanted to make a collage of it to honour my friend’s thoughtfulness, and as a reminder that creating can sometimes be at the cost of experience.


12″ x 12″ hand-cut collage

Further down the Sapphire Coast, nestled in Twofold Bay (one of the deepest natural harbours in the world), is a town called Eden. The area has a fascinating whaling history that stretches back millennia. Every year, Baleen whales migrate to and from their breeding grounds, their path cutting directly in front of the bay. At one time, lying in wait were predatory Orcas (from the Latin Orcus, meaning: demons from the underworld) – also known as Killer Whales (despite the fact they are actually dolphins).

Although such behaviour is typical of Orcas the world over, those of the Twofold Bay area were unique, in that they developed a symbiotic relationship with the Katungal (coastal people of the Thaua tribe) who originally lived there. The Orcas would drive Baleen whales into shore, then alert the tribesmen, who would spear and kill the Baleen, leaving the Orcas to feast upon their lips and tongues (a favourite delicacy), taking what was left for themselves once the Orcas had finished. It was a sacred relationship which continued for successive generations; indeed, the Katungal considered the Orcas (whom they called Beowas) to be ancestors that had returned to provide for the tribe.

When the British arrived and took over the area, setting up whaling stations in and around Twofold Bay, one station-owning family made use of the Katungal relationship with the Beowas, eventually destroying in less than 100 years what it had taken the Katungal thousands of years to develop.

Journey Through The Seder

 Created for The Wisdom Daily

April 2016