Pankaj had lived on 3 continents before he turned 20. In his early teens he was one of 60,000 Asians expelled by Idi Amin as part of his ‘Africanisation’ policy. They were given 90 days to leave Uganda. The family fled to Rajkot in Gujarat, before settling in England. Pankaj returned to India only briefly, on a strikingly efficient mission to marry. The meeting was arranged for Tuesday and he married Minaxi in Mumbai the following Wednesday. After the birth of their daughter, the family moved south, from Bolton to London. Their son, Priyank, was born in Burnt Oak in 1990. He began Tae Kwon Do at aged 7, a precocious level of self discipline and a strong competitive steak meant he quickly progressed through the grades. At 14 his Karate instructor, Tassie, enrolled him for the Black Belt exam. Pri had assumed that he’d be judged as a junior but Tassie had entered him for the adult exam. Every 2 minutes he faced a new opponent, specialists, not just in Karate but Muay Thai, Brazilian Jujitsu and Chinese Wing Chun. ‘I have to be able to hold my own wherever I go in the world’ and so he did, against seven adult men. Today Priyank is a professional instructor. He credits his training in the martial arts with teaching him everything about life.
Molly had just graduated and was looking for a place to live, in different circumstances she’d have retrieved more than the hard hat from her grandparents’ house. The rest of the family, her mother, aunt and Uncle Toby were less sentimental. Molly’s mother, Christina, was 11 when her father, Richard, remarried. Her new step mother had never wanted children and now she had 3. Christina’s siblings were 10 years older and already had independent lives so it was Christina who had to adapt most. The new family moved to Islington, then a working class area. Here, Richard, a barrister, would be able to offer legal help to the local community. But the neighbourhood didn’t embrace the family immediately, one morning Christina woke to find ‘you are too posh’ scrawled on the pavement outside their house. This was not how Richard, still an idealistic communist, had imagined life. He continued to support the party, even after fellow members left in protest of the murder of a Hungarian student who’d been peacefully demonstrating against the Soviet’s treatment of his country. Richard’s son, Toby, felt his father should have relinquished his membership. When he finally did, 8 years later, his old comrades viewed it merely as an act of expediency – now he could become a judge. And yet Richard saved this hat throughout his life, a symbol of victory for the common man and a ‘thank you’ from the Kentish miners suffering from lung disease for whom he’d finally won compensation. On the day of Richard’s funeral the community, once sceptical of him as a middle class interloper, turned out and lined the full length of Popham Street.
Nightcliff was a quiet seaside town, the calm only occasionally rippled by ‘salty sightings’, when crocodiles swam out of the mangroves and into surfer territory. Aged 7, Chrys was already building his way out of suburbia. He began to construct cities out of wooden blocks, specifically New York, piecing together its grid of skyscrapers from episodes of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. When the family left Australia to return to Greece, Chrys felt even further from his urban idyll. Their new home was surrounded by flat cotton fields, uninterrupted for 80 miles until Mount Olympus rose in the north. At 10 Chrys was still dreaming of a life in the city, he knew the population of every capital in the world. At aged 14, encouraged by his teacher Elli, he applied to college in London. He received a polite rejection, he should try again in 10 years. In 2004, a little over 10 years later, he won a place at Central Saint Martins and finally, he moved to the big city, to London, population 7,389,101.
Nothing was clearer with 326 pixels per inch. The screen, polished by laser beams or gamma rays or whatever else it was they’d used to make it so shiny, just threw back Ceri’s reflection. To see the stars, she realised she needed to look up, not down. For close to a year, Ceri had been sofa surfing, house sitting and spending weekends lengthening into weeks at her parents’. With the promise of a new job in America, she gave up her flat and zealously started clearing out thirty years worth of accumulated stuff. In the attic of the family home near the Malvern Hills, Ceri uncovered her Usborne Spotter’s Guide. Each page of this ‘companion for young enthusiasts of the natural world’ was marked with the deliberate Biro hand of her five year old self. The discovery prompted her to buy more guides – Birds, The Seashore and The Night Sky. She deleted her expensive astronomy app and gave up Instagram, tired of it’s ‘anticipated memories’. Now when Ceri is star-gazing or hiking, she leaves her phone behind and instead consults her Spotter’s Guides. Her job in California is currently on hold, and for now, she’s happy to spot a fox over a coyote, an English Oak over a Sequoia and a stoat over a Mountain lion.
The final All Blacks win against Australia felt like a perversity. Thomas, sitting next to his son John, suffered a heart attack and was carried through the stands on a stretcher. Jeannette brought up their four kids on her modest teacher’s salary. Bob, her youngest, followed her into the profession. Aged 20 he moved to Auckland for teacher training and met Helen. They married in 1967, when Helen was still a teenager. Jeannette advised them to enjoy their freedom before having kids. But Bob was ill and the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s, followed by witnessing a friend’s death, confirmed that life was for getting on with. They moved into a cottage in the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ town of Ngongotaha. The rent was cheap but not cheap enough to suppress Bob’s ambition to build their own home. 1976 saw the completion of their new house and the arrival of their new baby, Simon. Ongoing chemotherapy meant Bob was too weak to work so he took up an apprenticeship with a cabinet maker. This fascination with making things and the need to understand their construction had been in evidence when he was a boy mending his mum’s lawn mower. So Bob made things, he made stools and wooden letters for the kids and bread boards and the workbench heaved and the bank balance shrunk from the acquisition of tools. This awl was one of those tools, passed down to Simon when his dad died at the age of 36. Simon, an industrial designer, says it is his ‘most useful, best tool ever’.
A training day in King’s Cross isn’t how Florence would have chosen to spend her birthday, but James told her he’d take her out for breakfast first. The training day was actually a ruse, hatched between James and Florence’s boss, Jess. James and Florence were going to Paris. They spent the day eating and drinking and walking and Florence left with a fat smile and blisters. James sent flowers to his co-conspirator Jess to say thank you. The flowers were a generic and boring bunch but they were an important catalyst for Florence. Her work was ‘perfectly fine’ but she wanted more. She’d been planning a pedal powered delivery service but she wasn’t sure what to deliver. Now she knew. She would deliver flowers. Nice ones. She quit her job and built a trailer. She hooked it up to 1 of the 200 bikes that hung in their flat, James’ business is designing and building bikes. That was a year ago. Florence has adapted to her 3am starts, heading off to Bristow & Sons in New Spitalfields and cycling back in the half light. She knows that Coronations are actually called Carnations and that Dahlias don’t survive the potholes of east London and that the Peonies from Spalding are always beautiful.