The studio was vast and Nora was making tiny, matchbox-sized sculptures. Life felt faintly ridiculous. There was a certain wrongness with everything. This malaise deepened each time she looked out of the window at people striding down the street. She imagined lives full of purpose, of meetings, of worthy causes fought and objectives met. She did not imagine these people hating their work or feeling lost or that they were grieving. Her days melted one into another. She woke, she dressed, she drove to work, she parked the car. And again Nora found she was parking the car. But this time, inspite of being an accomplished reverse parker – less so a driver, she struggled to get close to the curb. She got out of the car. Trapped under the wheels was a shopping basket. It was flattened to the point of looking more like a drawing of a basket. Her immediate thought was ‘I’ll never make anything that beautiful’ but this was quickly tempered by knowing her mother would also have seen beauty in the malformed metal. The day was May 16th, 1993, a year since her mother had died.
‘It was love!’. No matter that their hometowns were thousands of miles apart, a quiet street in Macomer, Sardinia and a suburban city just north of Chicago. No matter that decades later they were still thousands of miles apart. And no matter that Tiziana had fallen in love through the smudge of thousands of cathode ray pixels with a man on MTV. That was in 1992. 8 years later she travelled from Florence to Milan for Pearl Jam’s Binaural show. Just days later they were playing in Roskilde, Denmark, when nine fans were crushed. And for a period the European tours stopped. Last year the band returned to Milan and Tiziana met up with a group of friends. It was a long set with no guests. In their post-gig glow they missed the last bus back to the city and the cab they’d called failed to turn up. At 3am, as the roadies were dismantling the stage, an SUV with tinted windows pulled up. The door opened and Eddie Vedder walked towards them. He greeted Tiziana and her friends with hugs and kisses. Despite the bodyguard’s protests Eddie posed for a photograph. He apologised that he didn’t have mementos for everyone and as he turned to leave, he thrust a single plectrum into Tiziana’s hand.
Joan and Stanley were not speaking. They’d not spoken for months and Joan was now engaged to Sandford. She earnestly threw herself into the relationship, calculated – perhaps, to bring it to Stan’s attention or perhaps in an effort to convince herself that she was over him. At the end of the week she left work, brushed away the flour that had collected in her peep toes and walked through the mill’s gates. Sandford and Stanley were waiting for her on opposite sides of the street. She crossed the road and never saw Sandford again. By the time Stanley returned to the army, as a physical training instructor, Joan was pregnant. As the war escalated, air raids sounded across Dover, friends and neighbours took shelter in the cliffs. Joan, with her growing bump, bunkered down in the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. She watched as German bombers shot down the barrage balloons, like schools of fat fish deflating above the city. The following day another thirty had been erected. Fifty years on, this ration book was stored in a cabinet in her living room, a ‘treasure trove’ of props for the stories she told her grandchildren, Sophie, Sam and Lucy.
The back garden was a menagerie. A pair of pigs grazed on the perfectly kempt lawn and a donkey sheltered by the well. Butterflies the size of dinner plates clung to the red brick house. Living alongside these reconstituted concrete and resin animals was a real cat. Jimmy was the latest in a long series of strays that Ernie and Maud had adopted, every one named Jimmy whatever its sex. And there were more strays, birds with broken wings or fledglings concussed after flying into freshly Windolened glass. Ernie built an aviary for them. He’d also built his and Maud’s home. He was both a deeply practical and a playful man. Since leaving his job as a joiner for British Gypsum he’d run his own business out of the garage. He built bird houses, garden sheds and fences and for the villagers of East Leake. For each piece he’d make a mouse, with a nose lathed into the perfect point, two curled leather ears, a tail and a pair of beady eyes. The mice were on everything he made, secreted away in the eaves of bird houses and under the seats of benches he constructed. It was only after Ernie’s death last year that his grandson Sam rediscovered the wooden mice – in the drawers of his grandparent’s kitchen, perched on water pipes and window sills. Maud was happy to have one less animal to dust and the mouse now lives in London, on Sam’s bookshelf.
Just to the east of the farm is a vast national park. Its mountains are almost entirely tree covered. Spruce and beech dominate but there are also birch, oak, berry spattered rowan trees and the park’s grand, native pine, the Harz pine. The wedding ceremony was to culminate in ‘baumstamm sägen’. Tradition dictates a tree trunk is cut in half, to demonstrate how a couple work together to overcome the inevitable challenges in their future. The tree that Carina and James chose was not an oak or a beech or a Harz pine. They would have had the stamina but there were more pressing traditions that followed the baumstamm sägen, traditions that couldn’t be held up by sawing through a tree of General Sherman-like proportions. They didn’t want to test the patience of their guests when there was the promise of sparkling Rotkäppchen Sekt. So they chose a tree with a more modest girth, a plum tree from Carina’s grandparents farm. And the Rotkäppchen Sekt flowed.
Else Müller slid the glasses neatly into the cabinet. They stood, hidden in the shadow of the shelf above, for another year. Every September over the next three decades they were dusted off for Else and Friedrich’s wedding anniversary. In 1939, just six days shy of their 31st anniversary, Britain and France declared war on Germany. It was five years before the allies declared victory but life did not return to normal. That same year the glasses rang together only as occupying American troops hammered on Else and Friedrich’s door. Their farm had been identified as one of the largest in Reddeber and the American soldiers moved in. Over the next few weeks jewellery and silver cutlery went missing. But the glasses remained. Even as Germany was carved up and the Soviet Union expropriated land across the east, including Else and Friedrich’s, the glasses were left untouched. In 1989, after the Berlin wall had fallen, the farm and its land were returned to the Müllers, to Else and Friedrich’s son, Hans. When Hans and his wife died, just months apart in 2007, their effects were carefully packed away by their daughters, Jutta and Sabine. The glasses were stored in a barn on the family farm until Jutta and her husband, Rüdiger, brought them to London for their daughter Carina. The glasses have survived two world wars, occupation, separation, reunification and a Ryanair flight.