top of page

Swamp Circus, part 3 - Tiree

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

What I was to be paid for each gig was agreed in advance and was paid directly into my bank account as soon as we returned. Coming up was a three week trek for which a sum was agreed. Shortly beforehand, Brett decided that the agreed fee was too much. He said that he thought that it was far too steep for a week. I was puzzled. Where did he get a week from? The job entailed leaving on a Tuesday morning for a two day drive to Scotland, catching a ferry to a remote island, be set up for the gig the following weekend, returning a week later on the one ferry per week to drive back down to the East Midlands for a gig the weekend following, before eventually heading back down to Cornwall. All in all, that was three weeks to the day, all without my caravan, which would need to be left behind with a friend who would keep an eye on the kittens, while I was left to having to bunk in the lorry. All on top of the fact that he had recently practically written off my home and scared the living shit out of a family of kittens. I simply told him to find some other mug! He backed down. I did the job, not for him, but for the crew who were relying on me.

The one thing that had become clear from what had been said by all of the crew at one point or other was that they enjoyed the time we had. They were at ease when I drove, they were confident in my ability to control the lorry and often snoozed happily; the complete opposite of their experience with Brett. They all agreed that being in any vehicle with Brett was hair-raising; a white-knuckle ride. Accidents were frequent and near misses, more so. Fortunately, I never had that experience, but I did see his dangerous antics from afar.

On the day of departure for Scotland, I had to drive down from near Glastonbury, five hours to Cornwall to pick up the big top, lorry and crew. We were aiming for an early start. My mate Greg lived on the same piece of land that the circus was stored. He would look after the kittens for me.

The equipment was still being loaded when I arrived. Eventually though, we headed out, late as always. Brett was to journey with us, something that had not happened before. It didn’t take long for Brett to start. He was sat in the front passenger seat telling me how to drive! I kept quiet for a bit. Behind me, the crew were biting their tongues. They could see that I was not best pleased at being told by this oaf of a liability how to drive his frigging lorry and were waiting for the backlash. After a while, I’d heard enough. I turned and looked at Brett with a scowl and was about to lay into him. He saw the look and said, “I’ll shut up now, shall I?”

“Best you do!” I said firmly.

It was almost too much for the crew who begged to stop for a quick break to get personal supplies. In reality they fell out of the lorry the moment we stopped to let out cries of laughter. Brett kept to small talk from then on.

Just across the border from Cornwall on the outskirts of Okehampton on Dartmoor we were pulled by the Ministry (VOSA). They decided to check over the lorry and trailer and decided also, to halt our progress. The idiot officer was under the impression that we needed extra fire extinguishers because we were carrying a couple of camping gas bottles and wanted us to display hazard warning signs. I corrected the officer by quoting the legislation governing the carrying of dangerous goods, etc., pointing out also that we were a showman’s vehicle, anyway. In the meantime, Brett blagged a lift and went off into town to get the things the VOSA officer demanded. A couple of hours later and officer Don’t-know-shit appeased, we were on our way again.

We were behind, but rolling on happily, now heading up the M5. All of a sudden, bang! A tyre blew on the trailer. Fortunately, we had a spare. It was an offside tyre, so the crew signalled to other road users to move over into the second lane while I changed the wheel. Job done and we were on the road again.

We’d just passed Bristol when, bang! Another tyre gave out! This time we were knackered. No more spares. Nightmare. Brett started ‘phoning round. It took hours because it is such an unusual tyre size. Eventually, he found one. The tyre arrived, was fitted and we were on our way again. By this time, it was dark and we should have been in the north of England, but we were several hours behind still in the southwest, hundreds of miles away. We were due to stop for the night at a booked motel near Carlisle.

We rolled on, stopping briefly whenever needed. No more problems. One by one the crew slipped into slumber as I continued driving through the night.

Brett awoke first and pointed out the motel we were supposed to have stopped overnight in as we passed by it at about 5am.

The rest were awake for the beautiful scenic drive up through western Scotland, passing Loch Lomand. The roads are a bit tight in places there. Some of the looks of drivers coming in the opposite direction were pictures as they saw me approaching. There was one moment, though; a lorry coming in the opposite direction. It was a tight squeeze. I was virtually scraping the hedge and he was on the edge of the precipice that dropped to the loch. One couldn’t have fitted a finger between us as we passed each other. Fortunately, we both knew what we were doing.

The drive through the glens was glorious, though by that time, I was hanging. I had been on the road for something like 36 hours by the time we reached Ullapool. I parked up on the dock and we booked into a B&B in town for what for me was a well-earned rest.

The next morning, refreshed, we booked onto the ferry for the cruise to the little island of Tiree some 49 nautical miles off the coast. There we landed and drove the few miles across the island to the site of the folk festival which was a great little affair.

Fortunately, Brett flew back to Cornwall while the rest of us enjoyed the hospitality of our hosts. Watching the Sun set at night without actually setting was a marvel. As we were so far north, the Sun never fully set over the horizon in the Summer and so there was light from it all night long.

One day I was chatting to a lovely lady and getting on well. The next time I saw her, she was on stage. It was then that I discovered that I was chatting up Eddi Reader!

At the end of the weekend, we tacked down. As there was only one ferry, we had to hang about on the island for an extra day. We were taken around the island. We lazed about on beautiful secluded beaches and were taken out sea kayaking. The weather, though windy at times, was glorious. Due to the gulf stream off the coast, it is very mild. Even in Winter, it rarely snows.

The next day, we drove back to the ferry port and caught the evening ferry back to the mainland. And what a glorious cruise. I sat and watched the most beautiful sunset as it dipped behind the islands.

Once back at Ullapool, we cracked on and headed back south for Loughborough and the Barefoot Festival. That went fine, though I had picked up a bug or something, so was feeling under the weather throughout. Brett had found some wheels for the trailer nearby, so they were delivered to site. Eventually, that done, we headed back for home. I was happy to be back with my babies. Once back in my caravan I went straight to bed for the first decent kip in three weeks, only to be awoken by Brett kicking off at one of the residents there to the point of fisticuffs. Enough was enough! I got out, made my way to Brett’s circus shop and made sure I was paid the originally agreed amount right there and then. No more! I was done.

Tom and I often have a laugh about Brett, though; what we call Brettisms; the unbelievable antics of that dangerous man who likes to think that he is a clever clown. The crew and performers were brilliant. Life with them was great fun. I really enjoyed my time with the circus - most of it.

Photograph courtesy of

185 views2 comments


Wizard Steve
Wizard Steve
Jan 09, 2021

It was an experience x


Sarah Balkwill
Sarah Balkwill
Jan 09, 2021

I love this story, what an adventure with amazing (and not so amazing) people. At least you can laugh about it now xx

bottom of page