LEANING over his garden gate, puffing on the butt of an extinguished cigarette, Geoffrey Crust looks like a truculent pirate. There's something of John Major about that long upper lip, but otherwise no physical resemblance to his sixth cousin is discernible, and even less to his fourth cousin once removed, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven.

Geoffrey Crust, aged 49, has spent his life at sea. He is a cook in the Merchant Navy - his culinary skills may have been inherited from his father, who was a baker.

His red-brick house lies across the estuary from the Boston Stump: the truncated tower of St Botolph's church. Large and set full square, it dwarfs most of the other houses in Tower Street. In the garden, dozens of garden gnomes teeter uneasily on bits of breeze-block or have nosedived into bushes and sludgy pits that must once have been garden ponds.

Inside, most of Mr Crust's house is decorated in red. Blood-red tiles line the walls. A plastic lobster lounges on the draining board. A red TV is perched on a shelf; there are even red fish swimming round a grimy tank.

'I like fish,' he says in a thick Lincolnshire accent. 'Particularly with chips.'

Mr Crust is a keen genealogist and local historian: he says he loves stalking over the Lincolnshire fens and marshes. The Crusts have always been marsh people, he maintains. His father was 'born on the marsh'. Geoffrey is one of five brothers.

Family legend has it that the Crusts may originally have come via the North Sea from the Netherlands. Through recent travels there, he has discovered several families called 'Grustas', which gives credence to the tales.

'I think our ancestors were probably the people who came over to help drain the bogs and marshes near Boston,' he says.

Mr Crust's love of genealogy is equalled only by his taste for tattoos, which cover all visible parts of his body. Skulls and serpents wind up his arms: the names of one-time girlfriends are branded round his neck. On his right hand is the simple inscription 'Knocker' - the nickname given him by his shipmates.

It is soon clear how he got the name.

'First I had two children by my first wife, and one by a friend of hers,' he explains, launching into tales of how children keep accosting him in cinemas and in the street, to ask 'Are you my Dad?' One small girl, whom he'd never set eyes on before, even turned up at his house recently and presented 'Dad' with a gift. 'You kept that a bit quiet,' the present Mrs Crust reportedly said. Married three times, Mr Crust says he has nine children (that he knows of); the eldest is a daughter aged 17.

He is a staunch Conservative voter, though not one who spends much time in his home area. This week he is delivering supplies to the Inuits in northern Canada; last week he was in Spain.

Despite his admiration for John Major as a politician - he thinks the Prime Minister is 'right on his views on Europe' - he does not rate him highly as a Crust. According to Geoffrey, Mr Major demonstrates few key Crust family characteristics. 'He's too dry,' he muses, 'too quiet - I don't think he's got much of our blood - he hasn't got enough drive or toughness. Margaret Thatcher's more a Crust than him.'

What about physical Crust family characteristics? Do Major and Thatcher typify any of those? 'We're all ugly,' he concludes.

Geoffrey Crust has had many jobs in his life. 'John Major's dad seemed like a chap who chopped and changed his career a lot of times - I'm the same,' he says. In addition to his seagoing job, he has been a Country and Western songwriter for 10 years, and claims he currently has 16 songs in the US charts. One he might consider playing to his cousins is a crooning ballad called 'I've Burnt All the Bridges on the Road of No Return.'

(Photograph and graphic omitted)