31 Jan A Brief History of Me. Chapter One. I was Born.
In early summer 1983, a young woman named Cairistiona was flying home from Java, Indonesia, after only six months of a trip that had been intended as open ended and hopefully definitive. She had been feeling increasingly ill, and none of the doctors she had visited had been able to give her a diagnosis. Days later after arriving back in London, sat in a doctor’s surgery, she would find out that all these symptoms were due to one life changing cause: she was six months pregnant.
Twenty two, without a job and not with the father, Gareth, her life wasn’t set up for this. She had so many plans, so many places to go, the thought of a child was both devastating and terrifying. Adoption crossed her mind and would remain there for the next three months.
She moved into a tiny housing co-op flat in Blenheim Crescent with Gareth and they began to discuss the future. He was a session musician and she was an art school graduate. She wanted to buy a van and travel around europe with the baby, he wanted to stay in London and carry on gigging and playing his sax in the egg box lined, sound proofed cupboard he had built for himself. To earn money she started selling on Portobello Market, and he continued to gig.
On the morning of the sixth of September, her waters broke and twenty minutes later I was born. And, thankfully, she fell in love. They named me Java after the island, with the middle name Ceridwen, after the mythological Welsh sorceress.
My bed was a few wisely placed bolster cushions on the floor and our kitchenware was an old yellow enamel steamer. Peanut butter was a luxury and our main activity was walking up and down Portobello market, chatting to stallholders, from morning til noon.
It didn’t take long for my parents to start seeing the dividing differences in their outlook on life, and soon after I turned one year old, mum moved out and found the two of us a flat through the housing co-op. There was no bathroom or kitchen, but there was more space, and this felt like a blessing. Upstairs lived Tessa, a Scottish music teacher with a fabulous perm and even more fabulous stilettos. I spent a lot of time and energy working on accessing said stilettos.
Mum had started assisting an interior designer on jobs, so by day she sent me to the childminder while she sanded and stripped and painted other people’s homes, and by evening she came home and sanded and stripped and built us a home. She built us a bathroom and kitchen and painted our floor in leopard print, accessorised by two black swivel eggcup chairs. Somewhere there is a glorious photo of her painting this floor dressed in a pink mohair jumper and post boy hat.
And then mum’s lung collapsed and she ended up in hospital.
She was told she couldn’t work for six months. So she rethought her plans and decided that what we needed was an adventure. In Europe.