The man with bad make up.

This story is a followup on ‘I’m a weirdo and I know it’

‘Lets camp over there, at the blue car’,
‘What blue car?’ I haven’t got my glasses on so any detail in the landscape is a blur to me.
With a deep sigh, Alexander starts a description of the landscape. As always, I just don’t see it, even if I had my glasses on.
‘How did a blue car end up there, is there a road going there?’
‘No. Must be washed up there by the sea.’

As we paddle closer the picture changes. It is like looking at clouds and see what kind of shapes they make. Could it be blue plastic barrels? No, washed up plastic sheets?

The closer we come the odder the scene becomes, the heather and the Rowantree, the grass, it looks a bit unnatural. And suddenly we see a head of a man looking over one of the walls, looking angry at us. Is he going to throw rocks at us? And why is he wearing makeup?

‘What do you want!’

‘I am sorry,’ Alexander answered, ‘We were looking for a place to put up our tent for the night. But we will find another beach. Sorry for bothering you.’
This seems to be the right password. The man comes from behind the wall. I expected a big bloke, but this small man appears. He is wearing an interesting combination of a blue T-shirt and skinny orange spotted legs in big yellow wellies.
‘No, it is fine. Hi, my name is Tom. I apologize for my rudeness just now. A few nights ago I had some intruders who also came by kayak, they ignored me completely. I don’t want that to happen again.’

I get out of the kayak and shake his hand. On closer observation, he has blue eyes tattooed on his eyelids and black spots on his face. This is not a young man, he must be close to 60. I’m bursting with curiosity, but it seems inappropriate to ask a question about it just now. Alexander and Tom are chatting and I am can’t help just looking at the man. What, how, when, WHY…?

‘When you are ready, pop over to the house for tea. I will put the kettle on.’
And he walks away. What house? The derelict bothy could hardly qualify as a house.
‘Wow’, I say to Alex when he left, ‘What a character. He sounds so English, did you see his legs?’
Alexander and I change into dry clothes, put the kayaks above the high tide line and have lunch. We want to know everything about this man. How did he end up on this east coast beach on Skye?

A derelict bothy, the kind that Tom Leppard used to convert to a shelter

A ruined bothy, the kind that Tom had converted to a shelter where he could live in.

We walk over the carefully laid out narrow pebble paths in the same direction as Tom had disappeared. The blue plastic we saw from the water, turns out to be the roof cover for a low shelter made from the leftovers of the old bothy. A strong incense smell comes from a doorway.
‘That is for keeping the midgies at bay’, Tom explains.

We enter the narrow doorway and walk in a narrow room which looks like a kitchen. There is a rough wooden work surface covert with a heavy plastic sheet. Some creative use of wooden crates and stones make shelving to put his food supply in. He has a gas burner and several plastic wash basins and a colourful mix of plastic fisherman gloves. A small opening in the wall shows us another narrow room which acts as a bedroom just big enough to stretch out in. More wooden fish crates used as shelving, a black sleeping bag on a mattress. Several books and knick-knacks on the shelves and no pictures.
I am soaking up the entire scene before me. It strikes me how clean and organised the place is.

‘Coffee or tea? Tom asks. ‘Or would you rather have a beer, I also have a white Chardonnay.’
We squeeze ourselves on some improvised seats in the cramped kitchen. On the gas burner, he cooks water for coffee.
‘I’m ex-military, I served in Zaire, now called Congo, Rhodesia and South Africa. I got out in the 80ies when Maggy was in charge. I could not find a job and found civilian life difficult, so I thought “If I look like a freak and live like a freak, people will want to pay money to take pictures of me or to write about me”. So I got tattooed as a leopard.’
‘Why a leopard print?’ I ask curiously while looking at a long orange spotted arm passing me on eye level as he pours the water on the instant coffee.
‘It is the thing that the guy holding the tattoo machine could do best. And I was fine with that. But the whole thing did not go according to plan. Those management guys in London did not care about me and sent no-one to meet me.’
Really, is that the whole reason behind the choice of tattoo? So, he could have been covered with butterflies? At the same time I feel sorry for him about his big plan falling through.

‘What brought you to this east facing beach with the only sun in the morning?’ Alexander asks.
‘This had a town nearby, this bothy and fresh water, looked like I could live here, so I stayed. Twenty years now this summer.’ He avoids looking at us and stares at the 2 steaming coffee mugs. I quickly glance at Alexander and see the amazement I feel, reflected in his eyes.

‘What do you do for food?’ This I really want to know. For me, good food is important to keep up moral. I sip my coffee and look at Tom expectantly.
Well, I paddle across to town with my two kayaks. I paddle in one and fill the other up with stuff. I tow it behind my back to my beach. I shop when I need to.’
He starts to chuckle: ‘Once I had to go across and on my way back the sea was too rough. The ferry scooped me right out of the water and brought me to my beach. With kayaks and all!’
The smile revealed surprisingly healthy looking teeth, only one tooth is missing but the face relaxes a bit.
‘But what do you eat?’ I try again. I’m so full of questions but don’t want to overwhelm him.
‘I have a can of vegetable at seven o’clock in the evening. I drink two pints of beer in the morning, two pints at 12, and a rum at four o’ clock. I do buy cheese and corned beef to feed my gul.’
‘Don’t you eat bread or pasta, potatoes perhaps?’ I ask in wonder.
‘Carbohydrates will make me fat!’ he answers with conviction in his voice.
He did not have much meat on his bones. In fact, he is a tiny little man. This food regime must be working. But what about that amount of alcohol? Is he an alcoholic trying to forget certain things? But I don’t dare to ask him, he looks so fragile. How far can I push him with my questions?

‘But there is a whole sea with fish, don’t you fish? Alexander asks in amazement.
‘Cleaning fish is very messy, I don’t like messy, so I don’t eat fish.’ Tom answers practically.
‘And what about a fire?
‘I heat my can of veg on my gas burner, I’m perfectly happy with that.’
‘Not even for warmth?’ Alexander tries again.
‘If I am cold I go and lay down in my sleeping bag, but it doesn’t get very cold up here. Besides, making fires is always very messy.’

‘I’m sorry for not talking very clearly, my tongue is quite out of practice. I don’t get a lot of people around to talk to,’ Tom apologises. ‘Besides, I already talked enough for a lifetime while I was in the army, I don’t want to talk much anymore with people.’

‘Don’t you get lonely here, all on your own?’ I ask carefully.
‘No,’ He reply fiercely. ‘I used to have a job in the youth hostel in Kyle of Lochalsh but I gave that up. You know, I attract the wrong kind of attention with my looks. I’ve been beaten up on a few occasions. I don’t want that to happen anymore.’

A combination foto of the elderly Tom Leppard and an insert of his younger self

A combined photo of the elderly Tom Leppard with and insert of his younger self.

We visited him whenever we were in the neighbourhood. He would recognise us and called us “The Dutch”, but never remembered our names. There were some topics of conversation he did not like to talk about. Religion and a certain meeting he had with a German girl. There were things that were bothering him but we did not dare to ask him about. He looked so sad when the conversation went that way.
At 60 he was still looking good and was strong enough to keep the lifestyle going. Going towards his 70 he could not keep it up. He could not manage the boats to get his shopping so he went more often. The guys from the nearby fish farm were keeping an eye on him as well as the people in Kyle of Lochalsh. It was touching to see how a community takes care of someone who has chosen to live in isolation. Not the odd one out but the odd one in.
Eventually, he was offered a flat in Bradford, a small town just over the Skye bridge on Skye. We wondered how he would adapt to living in a house and all its comforts.

We found out that Tom died of old age in June 2016 at the age of 80.

P.s. Slow traveling is meeting people in their own environment. It is not always fitting to ask for a picture in that situation and we did not feel the need for it at that moment. Tom Leppard is in our memory but now, with people reading this story they can hardly believe or imagine how he would look like, is he real?

If you like to check real images, checkout the video
or google images (tom leppard skye)

I’m a weirdo and I know it

Self made dwelling of Tom Leppard, leopard men of Skye, on a remote shore of Skye

Visiting Tom Leppard on Skye

What is that? Two kayaks are approaching the beach? Oh no, not today. He thinks back to an evening three nights ago when a couple in kayaks landed on his cleared beach. He had totally been ignored then. He’s not going to have that again! He’s going to scare them off by looking angry behind a wall.

That morning he stretched, touching the rough dry stone wall with his feet and hands, as he does every morning. The light was flowing through the blue plastic tarp used as roof coverage. He doesn’t know what time it is and he doesn’t care, when daylight comes it is time to get up.He pulled his knees up and swung his body towards the narrow entrance to the small kitchen area. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he reached for the neatly folded clean clothes on the shelf and got dressed. Turning around he made his bed in the tiny bedroom. To call this a bedroom was an overstatement, the space hardly fit his mattress.
The book, that he is rereading for the tenth time, went back on the shelf above the bed. In its right place in alphabetical order.

In his tiny kitchen, he reached for a half pint of lager. Grolsch nowadays, a Dutch brand, he had gotten fed up with cider. He learned that beer roughly has the same nutritional value as bread. Both carbohydrates. Bread doesn’t keep as well as beer and he likes the taste of beer better, so the choice was easily made. He opened another can of beer while he walked out through the plastic flap which acts as a door. The early sunshine tickled his face. It was so relaxing to feel the warmth on his body. He’d better make the most of it, the sun would be behind the hill at noon. He crumpled his beer cans into neat little packages and stowed them in the designated trash bags.

He walked back into the kitchen of his shelter, rough cut planks formed a narrow kitchen counter covered in plastic.On wooden shelves and in cupboards were all his meager possessions stored. Satisfied that everything was organized and clean, he sat down on the edge of the bed and scratched his chin.
He knew he was getting older. Things were taking more of an effort nowadays. He wondered how long he could keep up this lifestyle. But he had no regrets. Not about his tattoo, nor about living out here alone. He still held the Guinness Book of Records title for being the most tattooed senior citizen. He had the full body tattoo that transformed him into a leopard, done in the eighties when he came out of the military service. It had cost him 5.500 pounds, an investment in the idea that ‘If I live like a freak and look like a freak, people will want to pay money to take pictures of me and write about my life’. But it did not work out that way. No, he was not sorry about that. He didn’t want too many people around anyway.

He felt the stubble under his fingers and reached up to his scalp. A shave was in order. With a bowl under his arm, he walked out his shelter to get some fresh water from the stream a few meters away.
Carefully he walked back. In front of the mirror, he lathered the shaving cream with a brush on his chin. He looked at his reflection while he scraped off the foam and stubble from his face with a cheap disposable razor while making funny faces.
On closer inspection he saw that the leopard spots were fading, every day a bit less vibrant, although the black and blue are still clearly visible, the orange was getting less and less visible.
He put the shaving foam on the top of his head and shaved that stubble off too. He knew his hairline is receding, but the black spots and dots made that barely noticeable.
With the last two strokes, he shaved off his eyebrows, bringing out the black tattooed ones.

watercolour painting made by Alexander Gannet of Tom leppard

Tom Leppard watching 2 kayakkers approaching.   (watercolour by Alexander Gannet)

He walked along the shoreline. There was nothing much on the beach except some plastic bottles. After a storm, he usually found good timber, which he could use to improve his shelter, and sometimes valuable things, like big plastic crates lost by fishing boats or ropes and strings. During the years that he lived here, he has cleared the big boulders from the beach to below the low water line. He enjoyed the sight of the clean small red pebble beach and on the practical side, it made an easy landing for his shopping laden kayaks.
He walked back to the shelter via his manicured garden through a labyrinth of small red pebbled paths, passed sculpted heather plants and pruned Rowan trees. The grass looked a bit too wild and needed some clipping. So he decided to do a bit of gardening in the afternoon.

It was Wednesday, washing day according to his activity planner. Not to get too wet, he changed into a short-sleeved shirt and tiny aqua blue thong and slipped into his big yellow wellies. The combination with his skinny spotted orange legs was striking. It was like he was wearing a leopard print leotard, but this one never came off.
The freshwater stream near his shelter ended in a small waterfall before it flowed into the sea. He got the fish crate from the top step of the waterfall and with his huge big hands, too big in comparison to his small body, he started to wring out the washing. He hung the wet washing outside in the sun and checked the clothes on the indoor washing line. Dry enough, he folded it, stuck it into a plastic bag and stored it.
He put yesterday’s clothes into the free fish crate, replaced the fish crates and put today’s crate on the bottom of the waterfall.

The sun passed behind the hill. Lunchtime, two pints of lager again. He sat outside staring over the water to the town of Kyle of Lochalsh. Tomorrow he would need to paddle over with his kayak to town, to do some shopping, his supplies are getting low. He needs food for a couple of weeks again.
There was that bloody gull again. It was like the bird had a watch. It was always there at the same time. He shuffled into the shelter and got a can of corned beef, opened it, cut it into pieces, fed the bird, while he drunk his beer. He watched the bird gobbling down the meat before another gull came to steal it away. For ten minutes he enjoyed the company of the bird and then it flew off.
He sat there staring over the water for another hour, it was a quiet time, almost meditative.

Standing behind the washing wall, he watched a man and a woman landing their kayaks on the beach. What is that language? It sounds familiar. South African or Dutch?
‘Hello’, the man said, Do you live there? Shall we move on and leave you in peace?’
‘No, no’, he hears himself say, ‘It is fine. Hi! My name is Tom.’
To be continued…..

Charlotte Gannet

P.s. Slow traveling is meeting people in there own environment. It is not always fitting to ask for a picture in that situation and we did not feel the need for it at that moment. Tom Leppard is in our memory but now, with people reading this story they can hardly believe or imagine how he would look like, is he real?

If you like to check real images, checkout the video

or google images (tom leppard skye)