They were only 18 months apart but Ulla was very much the big sister. She was protective of her little brother but frustrated that he never defended himself against bullies. Even as the eldest child she was still too young for the karate classes advertised in the local paper. Her mum, Else, encouraged her to sign up for judo instead, where the teachers were happy to take on younger kids. Peter started classes too and his confidence immediately grew. At 10 years old Ulla could already see that these were important years for her brother. In spite of the awkwardness of judo and the poses that Ulla says ‘look silly’, it gave her and Peter self assurance. This continued to grow as Ulla won more and more of the competitions she entered. She says it’s very clear that judo has had an influence on her larger life, teaching her perseverance and stamina. This helped when she moved to London and began working as an illustrator. And it’s helped in her creative process too, trusting that an idea will come but being patient until it does. It’s not easy to know if modesty is consciously fostered as part of judo or whether this has always been a characteristic of Ulla’s. Either way, it’s clearly there – this tangle of medals live at the back of a cupboard, wrapped into an old plastic bag and tucked behind a box of washing powder.
One graduate was now a Sky weather girl but this seemed like an unlikely start for Luke. His rent was due and he was unhappy at the prospect of being ‘the guy who just plugs stuff in’ so he started to look for work outside of TV. He interviewed with an estate agent but was turned him down because he couldn’t drive. A motoring magazine didn’t see this as an impediment, so Luke wrote car reviews, or re-worded press releases, for a while. More odd jobs followed, he ran The Sun’s ‘Page 3 Idol’, a competition for amateur topless models, from this he moved to The Daily Mail’s showbiz column. Finally he felt he’d landed a proper job when he was recruited by the publishers, HarperCollins. He wrote press ads, this culminated in an email from Steve Coogan, he’d loved Luke’s lines for the ‘I, Partridge’ ad in The Times. Luke started watching comedy at the age of 7, mostly re-runs of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python, in his late teens he discovered Alan Partridge. Luke’s been working on his own sitcom for over 10 years. There are ‘rules of writing’ by everyone from John Cleese to Elmore Leonard (10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip). Many of these conflict but the one that’s common to every compilation is ‘you must write’. As yet Luke’s book, stamped with his initials, is empty.
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.