This story is taken from a recorded interview and is transcribed with very little editing to preserve the details.
So, my name is Gavin Strange, and I would say the best description for what I do is, a designer. I would say at heart, I am a designer. When I first started out that was graphic design and then it quite quickly changed and morphed into web design. I really just like the term designer in general, because I love designing things from websites to games to toys to skateboards to exhibitions to anything I can get my hands on, so I would say designer is my calling card as it were.
I’ve got fond memories of growing up. I was born and raised in Leicester in the Midlands originally, and now I live in Bristol. I grew up there, and I didn't leave until I was in my early 20's. I would say it was a normal childhood, if that makes sense. I remember playing out a lot, I remember being outside. I remember being close with my brother, the age gap was actually really good because I felt like an older brother, I wanted to look after him, so I was hanging out with him a lot, very family oriented. We were a real working class family, I was never the kid that had the latest and greatest and I was always asking for the Airmax 93's and I never got them, I got the Gola's instead.
I never held that against anyone, it was never "I don't have the cool stuff", my parents always took us away on holidays and gave to us like that, rather than material possessions, that really meant a lot.
I became aware of my social class and status when I was a lot older. I would say it was when I moved to Bristol, in my 20's. I didn't know anyone else of any other class, there were just people, that was it. I didn't take any notice of any politics or anything growing up, and the school I went to, both and primary and secondary were state schools were quite rough. Secondary school was funny, I didn't absolutely love it, but I didn't hate it. I didn't ever bunk off school, god forbid. I was too much of a scaredy cat, and too scared of my mum to do that. It was, “This is what you do, what else you gonna do". That's what kids do.
When I started secondary school I was also a ballroom and latin dancer, which was interesting. I started dancing when I was 10 or 11, just before I went to secondary school, so that was interesting to be a teenage boy and a dancer. I actually really enjoyed it, and again, I never really gave it much thought, I knew I'd get teased a bit, but to be honest I was more scared of quitting, it was routine, it was what happened, my mum paid for me every week and I went there every week.
GCSE's were funny because I again I knew I liked art. I'd always paint and draw. I do remember being the kid in class that was like “oh gav can draw, can you draw us this” and I'd draw Sonic the hedgehog or something like that. I didn't think it was a talent, I just thought that I can draw a bit better than others sometimes. I thought I'd do art, art will be one, I think it was design as well actually. I more just picked them based on that.
I remember doing work experience at school, again I didn't know what to do, and I didn't even think you could find cool jobs or anything like that, so I went and worked with my uncle for 2 weeks being a painter and decorator. I loved it. I was also the only kid in school that got paid as well. I got paid £90, £45 a week. I bought a pair of Reebok Classics, and a pager, like a boss. Why would I need a pager when I'm 15, I'm not a drug dealer. That was quite interesting just to see how the world works. I'd never heard so much swearing in my whole life, on a painter and decorator site, it was unbelievable. I remember thinking, “OK, that's a job, maybe I'll do that as a job then, cos that's what a job is”.
I don't think I broke my mum's heart because she probably didn't expect it but, I remember being about 10 or 11 and being like “Mum, I'm going to go to university”. I didn't really know what it was, I remember saying those words to her and she was like “”Oh wow, ok, good for you”. And then when it came to that time, I was like “Mum, I don't want to go to university”. and again, it didn't feel like a monumental decision, it was just like, it's not for me.
When I went to college, I made best friends with my mate Jonny, who is still my best friend now, he was my best man at my wedding. We were totally different because he was from a small town in Leicester, but he was into skateboarding and liked cool music. I was still a total townie, because I was in the city and he'd come from afar and it was a bit more alternative.
We should have been at total odds really, our music taste was so different, and that's all you really bond about when you're that age, but we actually became really close friends, and we were both really into film. We spent a lot of time talking about films, watching films, going into the IT room and using quicktime to download trailers from the first version of the apple trailer website, and just watching trailers over and over again.
So that was interesting that I found a bit of a kindred spirit and that's when we started to do extra stuff. We made a college video just for fun called the Umpire Smokes Crack. I'd borrowed this massive honking camera from a family friend and edited it together in camera and using the VHS. That's as far as I can remember, that's my first side project, it was just like “ahhh, we should film something, we should make something”. So it was actually the catalyst with him, just doing stuff.
A design agency came in (to college) and said “We're looking to take on a junior designer” and me and this guy called Rob went in on separate weeks to do 2 weeks each of work experience in the design studio. I just went in and did whatever I was told and... I tell this story now, I think it's true, I'm pretty sure it's true, again I don't know if memory has warped it, but I remember the creative director saying “Look, the other guy ran out all of my favourite letraset marker pens, and you didn't, so you can have the job”. I remember him being really flippant and really like “Well, we might as well have you then, you'll do”, and that was it.
And then I was an employed person, I remember feeling weird about that, I remember feeling like I couldn't believe I was walking to work, because someone was going to pay me to design, you know. I still feel that often when I'm walking to work, when I think about it, it's like “this is crazy”, so that time actually, I really felt I was starting to change, switching on basically.
So my official job description is senior designer and it's at a place called Aardman animations, which some people know. A lot of people know Aardman through growing up, being creators of Wallace and Gromit, Morph, Shaun the sheep and things like that. My official remit is senior designer for the digital team, so I work in the digital sector and I design games, apps interactive things and anything with pixels really. That's sort of my main remit, but over the years I've worked in lots of different departments.
I've just finished working on a short animated film with a director, I worked on the Shaun the sheep feature film providing graphic design, I worked with the charity sector for a project called Shaun in the city and Gromit unleashed. I'm good friends with Nick Park, Pete Lord and Dave Sproxton, the two founders and Nick, being Mr Park, creator of Wallace and gromit. I feel a part of the Aardman family, I really do, and that's because they made it open, from day one really, I was just so appreciative, and so honoured to be a part of it, I would just go and make friends with people and see what they're working on.
I absolutely adore essentially having sort of two jobs. Aardman is my day job which I adore, and feel very lucky to have and give it my all. But I still have that same excitement that's built up, at night, thinking “I'd love to do this, I'd love to do that or love to get involved”. I basically just do things at night, under the name Jam Factory.
Basically Aardman really encourage it, they were just totally cool with it, and I think they found me because I was being so public with sharing under the banner of Jam Factory. That's just amplified it more, if anything, I'm more busy now I've got a day job, because it's taken off the financial pressure. Anything I do in the evening, I don't really do it for anyone else, I don’t take on any paid jobs. I think I've done one paid job this year, because it was for the National Union of Teachers about strike action, so it's something I really believed in, that was it.
I've also been writing a book this year which wasn’t even on the fictional list of “I would love to do this”. It was so exciting I thought, what if, just give it a shot, you know, the worst thing that could happen is Miranda (Do Books) will say no. But as it went on, it progressed and we met up in London and basically I've written this book called Do Fly.
The book is sort of the format for my talks, it's sharing my thoughts and my process, but really headed all around positivity and actually just doing stuff. I want to share that sentiment and that feeling. Anyone can have that spirit, and that energy to do things. In this time where it's really easy to just to say no, and not to bother trying because you think you can't achieve it, well, I feel like I'm proof that you totally can. I never thought I was worthy of doing anything good, and actually, you don't have to wait for anyone's authority to tell you you are good enough, or to tell you can, you just do it, and that's how you learn and that's how you progress.
I don't feel like my working hours are more mental than anyone else. You look at people who have the real work, doctors, nurses, civil servants and people that do the real work that are on their feet, on the go all the time. I feel because the nature of what we do, we are in a nice comfortable office on an expensive chair on an expensive computer. It doesn't feel laborious, that's the thing, and that's the thing I talk about in the book. I feel quite strongly about work and that it can sometimes have really negative connotations. Maybe that's why I presumed I would never have a good job because I thought work was not meant to be enjoyed, but it is. So it doesn't feel like I'm working, it does not feel laborious.
My parents definition of work was a different thing because my mum worked at the blood donation centre, on the administration side of things. My dad was an engineer, my dad's actually a really great artist and I remember as a kid asking him to draw us stuff because we just loved the way he drew, but he was never an artist professionally. I don't think it was really seen as a viable profession when he was a lad.
I never heard them moan about work, I never heard them make it be a negative thing. They just worked hard, they worked really hard to provide for us as well. I think they definitely know I love my job and that I'm very very lucky, and they are very proud that I've got something that I love, because that is really rare.
A day off for me means hanging out with Janey my wife because she works just as hard as I do, so us sitting down together and watching a film, walking the dog, we love just going somewhere nice and walking Arnie the dog. I love playing Playstation, it feels like a little treat, because I do it so infrequently, well once a week, that's quite frequently. But that’s still like a little escape, that's really nice. I love playing the drums. This is the thing, I really enjoy working, I really enjoy creating still, so I suppose playing the drums is still creative to a degree. I would actually now happily, if it's like you've got a free day, I'd probably take the computer, and take these little music controllers, and try and make some music, because it feels like I'm maybe not working towards a project so it's just pure fun. I really like just taking the camera out. I think it's just maybe doing it in my own time because even the personal projects it's like “9 o'clock, let's go, here's the goal for tonight” where as time off, it's just to mooch about. I might actually be doing the same thing, I'm just doing it at my own pace.
It's almost indescribable, as corny as that sounds, how much I value my job, how much I value the experience, the people, the opportunities it gives me, to work on a feature film, to goto award ceremonies, to have the ceremony around the name of Aardman, the value of that. Value doesn’t mean monetary. The value of learning with incredible people, because everyone that works there is fantastic, so you are working with really good people. The value of making stuff that matters, that's up for debate you know, maybe art does save lives, with the positivity and just with the experiences. But making stuff that communicates to people, making stuff that makes people laugh. To work with these people that have entertained families on Christmas day every year for 40 years, that's amazing. There's not many people that have done that, so to work with those people, and be at a company founded by those people, I value that more than anything really.
This story is taken from a recorded interview and is transcribed with very little editing to preserve the details.
My name is Norman Gavin Alexander Macaulay. My family are from the Outer Hebrides, in the Isle of Lewis. I had quite an easy introduction to life, I wouldn’t say they were wealthy, but they were comfortable. I had a good young life.
My school life was, I think I was popular enough, I used to get on with most people. Education was always a struggle, I’ve always had a shocking memory, from a very early age, and academically, it was always difficult, terrible speller. I always say that school days being the best days of your life is not true, but they weren't unhappy times.
The first time I was aware of my social class was when my parents wanted me to goto grammar school, it was either that or the comprehensive. It was a bit of a failure to goto the comprehensive, and I suppose that was the first indication that I need to be in the better level of education, which went with the job that my dad did, and their aspirations.
My father worked for BP and Shell. He used to be a sales rep for petroleum. I always thought it was an important job, I was quite proud of what he did. He had to travel a lot for his work, which meant we didn’t see much of him in the day.
I did end up going to Hipperholme Grammar. My parents were surprised and proud. I was happy there. Art was obviously something I was good at, it was the best class during the week. But being a grammar school, if they could have got rid of it, they would have done. It wasn’t taken very seriously, so I didn’t really imagine pursuing art in further education or a career. I thought what’s the point of me being here, trying to get a good education, and doing art.
My latter years at grammar school, I made a mess of my O Levels, so I had to resit after some extra tuition. I got my Maths, English and Geography O Levels. It meant I had to waste several months and it was a bit embarrassing, but it was something that needed to be done.
After leaving school I applied for the Percival Whitley school of art in Halifax, to do an art foundation course. It was a natural progression for me to do the course. I think my parents feelings about doing art, they were quite positive. The school years had been quite difficult, I think they were quite happy I was carrying on with education, trying to better myself.
The first time I picked up a camera was when we went on a safari park. I had my first instamatic camera which was mine. I can very clearly remember taking pictures in the park.
I was quite surprised how I was always trying to find a different way of tackling a subject with my camera during my college years. I was quite competent at drawing and painting, but I was able to find creativity in my photography, which I didn’t have the confidence in my painting. My photography tutor was one of most surprised people when I informed him on what colleges I was going to apply for, I’m not even sure he was aware of who he was.
When I applied for Trent Poly, to do a diploma in creative photography, I think they found something exciting in my work, enough to take me on.
Trent Polytechnic seemed like an exciting place. The course seemed good. They need a good mix of people and abilities and characters, and I just seemed to fit in there.
I remember on my final degree show, hoping somebody would come and give me a job. I hadn’t a clue what they would have had me doing. My work was very personal, but not very commercial. It were a necessity for me to get a job. I went for an interview as a masseur and ended up getting a job at a leisure centre. I was a pool attendant for a number of years after university. I suppose like a lot of students, it was a case of getting a job. If there is nothing going in your field, then it’s just a necessity to work, and I was a good swimmer.
I remember taking my photographic work to a gallery in Nottingham. It was a place in the centre where everybody exhibited their work. I went for an interview with my leather suitcase rammed full of prints, and my editor, so I could show them a short film I’d made. They loved my work, I can’t remember why I never exhibited there though.
I can’t remember doing commercial photography after Trent Poly. I did a lot for myself, like a hobby. I always saw it as more than a hobby, I always thought, when you are educated in something, you are something special. I got a 2:1, and I was proud of that.
I moved back to Yorkshire because my girlfriend was working in Bradford and I very quickly got a job on the dustbins. I’d done the job as a student, before I went to Nottingham University, just as casual labour, but also to make enough money to buy by Nikon camera.
I’ve worked on the bins now for 27 years. I am a team leader, I have been for the past 15 years. We work 39 hours. When I first started on the bins, we used to finish a lot earlier. Sometimes on a Friday my dad would be heading out to work when I was getting home. We work a longer day now, I think the public are getting value for money.
When children look at us, we’re probably quite low down on the scale of jobs, the bins is somewhere near the bottom, whereas a doctor would be near the top. I would advise children to do very well at school, so they don’t have to become a bin man. I would say it’s a good life though, I would say to them I’ve been doing it for 27 years so it can’t be that bad.
I think society sees rubbish collection as a very necessary thing. They’ve got a problem, they’ve got a load of rubbish they need clearing each week. So we’re doing a very necessary job. We’re not the most popular of people, we don’t have a particularly good relationship with the public, where as before, they just saw us as hard working blokes that took all the rubbish, but now they see us as the bin police.
I think all of us enjoy working outside. Most people have done a factory job where you are just watching the clock all day, there is none of that on the bins. You’ve got a task, and you just get on with it, quite often you are oblivious to the time, unless time is running out, and you’re wishing in a way there is a bit more time to get the task finished.
We live in the same house that we’ve been now for slightly more than 26 years. It’s in Brighouse, pretty much my home town. Days off are quite special. I don’t mind my job, it’s just something you do, I just keep getting up and going to work. But when you’re not working a day, it is special, the freedom to do what you want. You want to use the time as much as you can. We need rest days, because my job is very physical, I do need my weeks off to recover.
I wish I had more time just to do the things I want to do, my photography, the saxophone, I’d like to progress with that. The thought of winning the lottery, and be able to go out and explore the world and make a record of everything I see. I’d like to make good images that people like to live with. To put up a really good exhibition would now be my main goal in life. I have had odd bits of work in exhibitions, I think, if I live my life and look back and haven’t achieved that, what I think is excellence, I would be disappointed.
Otherwise, it’s just being happy, content. I think I’ve lived a life where I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t have any regrets with the job that I’ve done, because it does interest me. You never know what’s going to be under the next wheelie bin lid.
Indoor Postal Worker
This story is taken from a recorded interview and is transcribed with very little editing to preserve the details.
My name is Andrew James, I work at Royal Mail Brighton. My job title is Indoor Postal Worker. I’ve worked here for 37 years, I suppose because my dad was a postman, it put the idea in my head to apply.
I work indoors in the delivery department, my duties are dealing with special delivery items that are going out everyday for the east 1 and 2 section of Brighton.
If I were to describe my job to a child, I’d say I deal with mail that has got more important stuff than ordinary envelopes in it, people pay a lot more money to have it delivered and usually it's valuable things that need to be dealt with the next day.
I work 5 days a week, and a 6th day as overtime. My hours are 6am till 2:15pm.
I walk to work, takes me about 15 minutes to walk down in the mornings, it’s quite a direct route straight down the hill. It’s not too bad in the summer, it’s nice and light, but once the nights start drawing in and it's cold and dark in the morning, it's sometimes a bit of a chore to get up and get out in it. But I’ve done it for so many years, you know, it's fine.
You always get people that are not very happy with the Post Office. I suppose most people value the postmen. Since its been privatised, whether people will value you as much as they did before, I don't know. Over the last few years a lot of changes have been made and people are receiving their mail later. I don't think they value it as much as they used to.
I have valued my job, but at the moment I don’t value it that much because I know it's coming to an end. Through the years I've said to myself, “you're lucky to have this job, because its steady money and the overtime has always been there”.
I suppose it’s something that you need to do to earn the money to live. That's the way I’ve looked upon it all of my life, my parents did as well. You need to go to work to pay rent, to buy food. It’s a means to an end isn’t it? It's something you do unless you're lucky enough to do work that you enjoy doing that's not exactly a chore.
I enjoy the chat with the guys at work, that's probably what I’ll miss when I go, is talking to people at work, but, that's about it really. The work I do is not particularly demanding, it’s a chore, it's something you go in and do, you come home and get up and do it the next day.
Now I’m facing retirement, I would like to find a little part time job, just to keep me occupied more than anything, but I’m not worried about finding another job because I will be financially ok with what I have. If I do find something I’ll be pleased I can just find something for a couple of days, just to keep my mind occupied, and to get me out, to do a little bit of work.
My full name is Emily Stanley Macaulay. I guess my dads side of the family is from Scotland which is where I get Macaulay from, I don't know that much about my family history but it feels quite nice having it there to ponder sometimes. The most useful part of my name is my middle name, a name I hated all the way through school but it has been useful these last few years as a way of naming Stanley James Press. It comes from a film, my sister is Maggie Roy.
I'm trying to think of my first memory of design, I find it really hard to pin point memories from my past, I remember a day at junior school when we were spending the day colouring something in, a complicated pattern, everyone was using every coloured pencil on offer besides this one kid who had decided to use just two colours. There was something about that moment that made me think that that kid had a really good eye for detail and that he'd restricted himself but created something that, at the time, I thought looked amazing.
I think over all I liked school, I was reasonably academic and very well behaved. Actually I liked it until about halfway through high school where some lessons just suddenly felt incredibly boring, the kind of boring that terrifies me as an adult, what a waste of time. I loved art, volunteered to run the stage lighting in the drama studio, I loved technology, I was lucky enough to have incredible teachers in lots of subjects.
I guess there must have been a part of me that could see a direction I was heading and one that I wasn't. Recently I've thought lots about kids who hate school, who know they have 14 years or so that they are going to have to deal with that stress. As an adult I can't imagine feeling that trapped, but as kid you just have to go along with it.
After high school I went to Bradford college, most of the people I knew at high school went to the local sixth form college but by that time I think I'd out grown the small town I was from. Bradford college was brilliant. It was good to be thrown into a different environment, with different people of different ages. It was complete creative freedom for 2 years. I also moved out of my parents house around this time, so it feels like a massive turning point in my life. I then went on to Brighton University, again a scary decision but a brilliant one, knowing you can move so far away from home and surround yourself with a new community is a brilliant lesson to learn.
I have fairly mixed feelings about university, I wouldn't change my decision for the world but I think universities are at a point where eventually what we know as university will not exist and a better system will exist. I feel as if we will eventually look back at the last few decades of university degrees as a point where people were ripped off. A low point in education.
I really can't remember what I wanted to do when I was 15, I'm not sure I had the foresight to think that far ahead. Or maybe I did but it would have been severely restricted to your typical jobs. It always amazes me how many jobs are out there, that sounds dumb but I think as a kid you have really limited views of what a job is.
I hate mornings so when my alarm goes off I often just want 5 more minutes in bed. But after that I am a creature of habit. I work between 9-6, Monday to Friday. Most of the time I look forward to work, I run my own business so I should be enjoying it, if not I severely need to re-think things. My studio is in my house, so once I'm up I don't have to go far.
I don't really have a job description, it doesn't really exist, it can be whatever I want it to be. The day to day stuff that I do often involves either sitting at my computer designing stuff, mainly paper based things, books, mail, posters, things that will eventually be printed. Or I will be researching things I will be designing in the near future. Or alternatively I will be making things, so creasing, sticking, printing, sewing paper. Or on the boring days I'll be doing my accounts or filling in a mammoth spreadsheet.
I often have side projects on, but this feels like a hard question to answer, it shouldn't be but here is my conundrum...I enjoy making clothes, hiking, making puppets, pop up books. But quite often side projects feed into work. For example I spent many years making fun pop up cards and personal books which eventually led me to a project with Alma Haser producing a pop up book. My love of hiking has resulted in a map project. The line between work and side projects is a blurred process. I'd also be tempted to describe a personal project as one I do for no money but that doesn't really fit either as some personal projects feel as if I should be earning money from them, and some jobs feel as if they should be for free.
I work 9-6, Monday to Friday. I'm pretty disciplined. I've prided myself on that for years but it's only been recently that I see it as a hang up from working in a shop for so many years. I run my own business so I shouldn't be so restricted. If it's sunny out I should be able to switch stuff around to be able to enjoy that, there is nothing stopping me. That is something to work on.
I'm a massively nervous person so I always panic about meeting up with new clients. My brain likes to ponder a problem and I often find that when I meet clients my brain thinks it needs to have all the answers straight away. It takes quite a lot of persuasion to tell it to stop worrying and slow down. I'm lucky enough to find myself in a position that most of my clients end up becoming friends, which is exactly how I like it. It means you can meet up with someone you know you work well with with no pressure to perform.
Because I love my work it is easy for me to become consumed by it. I find it easier to work longer hours than to give myself the afternoon off. I don't mind working longer hours sometimes, some projects need it, some projects are super exciting but have tight deadlines. I really start to feel the effects of it if it goes on for too long, and I resent it if it gets in the way of the other things I love doing.
I think my family would describe work as something you do to earn money, to keep a roof over your head, to be able to afford a family, a holiday.
Work takes up so much of your life, for some people it will be about money, and hopefully security. If you are lucky enough to do something you love then hopefully work becomes about deciding how to spend your limited time on this planet, deciding what you want your brain to focus on each day. I think there's probably a society requirement too, you'd like to hope that jobs add something to the society we live in, although in the complex societies we have developed maybe that is just a dream for the future.
On a day off I like being outdoors, hiking, riding my bike, looking for deer, planning adventures, getting to the top of mountains, seeing friends, cooking nice food, and doing anything that doesn't feel like work yet.
The most exciting thing I've ever seen? This probably changes fairly frequently but the one that sprung to mind was from the other day. I was sitting in a new piece of woodland I'd discovered, alone, there was no one else walking around in that area. It was cold but I'd sat down for some lunch. I'd already seen a deer gallop off a little bit further down the path so I knew they were around. After a 20 minute break, just before getting up to continue walking, a group of deer, unaware that I was even there, walked just behind where I was resting. I like being that close to wild things. Either that or bears in Canada or the tops of mountains in the Lake District.
I think the qualities of a life fully lived are to just enjoy it, life is short, we will be forgotten quickly, but if you can try squeeze in all the things you'd like to achieve without putting stuff off till tomorrow then that doesn't sound too bad. I'd hate to regret things, decisions not made. And be nice, do good things.
Emily Macaulay - Stanley James Press
Barista and Coffee Shop Owner
My name is a rare (in the world) but typical Ukrainian name. It’s after the Ukrainian writer Taras Shevchenko from 1800. Everyone who is called Taras has Ukrainian roots. It’s a very ‘origin’ type name and a more western part of Ukraine. I was trying to work out what is the link between Ukraine and Greece? But in 891 I think, I don’t want to mess up the dates, Ukraine became a Christian country — it used to be Pagan — and the Christianity came from Greece.
I was trying to find a translation and the meaning of my name, which means ‘The free man’ or ‘The man of freedom’. I guess it tells a lot about me because I feel I am a Gypsy inside, I’m always restless — ready to go. I never think about comfort, I think always what I see.
My eye is fed with visual things, I recognise the beauty, I see the beauty, it doesn’t matter if it’s a human or an object, I can always spot something different and very, very tiny things which trigger that. David Downton says: “That I am an artist without knowing that I’m an artist” it is kind of that which makes it even better because I don’t call myself an artist.
I remember the first home I lived in, it had a beautiful garden and was at my grandparent’s place. I had the most amazing childhood I could have dreamt of because it was great. It was the countryside it was grandparent’s love, it was grandmother’s food, a wild forest and endless fields on the other side.
I spent time in countryside from since I was born, until the age of seven — that was when you had to go to school. I was born in the city so I had to go to school in the city and my ‘torture’ was Monday to Friday — because I couldn’t stand the city. I was looking forward to Friday, the 1410 bus, that went to my grandparent’s place. That was my life from Monday to Friday, looking forward to it.
My aunty she was unable to have children and she looked after me all the time until the age of 7. So I had to reconnect again with my parents, because I got used to her. I wouldn’t be who I am without my aunty, she’s probably the most important female figure in my life. I think she’s got even more maternal feelings towards me than my mother. Even though I love my mother and she’s trying to protect me, my mother’s sister, she understands me.
I guess when I was a child, I was fed with love because I was a substitute for her own children. Now, she has got two beautiful daughters, but at that time it was a massive shock for her to live in a very close society where things have certain rules: after you get married, next year there has to be a baby. She became the centre-point of public judgement because people were questioning why? It was against the rules of the small village mentality, so I think she went through a lot of very difficult times. And I am glad that I managed to contribute something to her.
I guess she taught me that whole outdoor eating culture because she was wealthy and she loved — and she still loves — socialising and she’s a doctor, obviously she’s got an amazing connection with people and authority with children. I think she was harsh when she had to be harsh with me but she is very well mannered. She taught me manners and how to behave when in places and how to eat right, how to say thank you, give up a place for the elderly and it was basic things for my education.
She is an amazing baker and I remember, since I was a child, licking the bowl of cake dough mix, and I can do it until the age of 37 now. She introduced me to the love of food and because my parents weren’t rich and lived a very basic life I had ‘black’ and ‘white’. I had my day-to-day with my parents, they were always short of food. My mum couldn’t cook and I think she couldn’t cook because she wasn’t financially secure to do so, she couldn’t spoil me with that. And with my aunty I had a very different life.
I rebelled against my aunty and I remember that was probably the most important decision I ever made in my life because I guess I sacrificed everything. There was period of time when I was going to the church because at my grandparent’s place it was forbidden, and whatever was forbidden was ‘sweet’. So I was going because everyone was going and I started questioning religion and within the dialog with myself, I disagreed with a lot of stuff that I was told.
One Sunday when it was mass at the church, I had to go — because my aunty said “We are going to the church”. She said “How come you can sleep while other people are in the church” and she pulled the duvet off of me and said “Now you are going to get up” and I said “No”.
It was a massive gap that I had created between the two of us by not accepting her authority I guess. But I remember the adrenaline punch and my heartbeat was going probably 200 beats per minute. I made myself very vulnerable, in a sense, but also I made myself very strong because I stood up for what I had believed. I think it was the first time in my life that I said something that wasn’t suitable for her even though I loved and I always will love her. I think she didn’t talk to me for probably a week or maybe we had very cold relations because both of us had to understand what had happened — and that was my thing. And then I realised that I am strong and that was an amazing step.
My auntie has always loved what she was doing. She is doing what she loves and I cannot imagine her doing any other job. She works in the city but she lives in the village where my grandparents lived because they built her house where my grandfather was born. And even though there is a state doctor in the village, because if there is a school there must be a doctor, she is the one who is called in the middle of the night. So, any birth, any death, any high blood pressure. I think that there are about 100 houses and everyone has her number.
She is so helpful towards everyone, she has got so much dignity. I think all the closest people that I know, my grandpa that has died, my father 7 years ago and her best friend who has died of cancer around 8 years ago, everyone left holding her hand. She was giving so much hope to people, to probably the last moment they departed. She is so strong yet so fragile at the same time when I look at her. And you can upset her very easily, she is very emotional and I guess you can find a similarity in her love towards people.
My mum was forced to study what my granddad wanted her to study. My mum always wanted to be a doctor and my granddad decided that it was not good and that she should become an accountant. I think it was ‘privileged’ and it was an easy way to get a job and I think for my grandparent’s generation, security meant more than anything else.
My grandad was a driver for 40 years. He spent his whole life working as a driver. He started working as driver for Generals during the war and then he ended up in a prison because the car he was driving the General in, one of the wheels came off and killed someone.
He was a little bit of a dictator, he was of a very typical post-war mentality where people never got together from love, it was purely based on instinct, about reproduction and surviving and my grandparents bickered their whole life. But they managed to have a decent house and a decent life with a pension and stuff.
Going back to my childhood, I have had ‘three lives’. I had the ‘U.S.S.R. life’ — I was born during the U.S.S.R. — I had life in the independent Ukraine and I am British. I have tasted life in three different dimensions.
I had an amazing relationship with my grandfather. In a way we loved each other for the fact neither of us gave up their ideas. But we didn’t like each other for the fact we couldn’t accept each other, who we are, because we are very strong characters and he stuck to his rules and I stuck to mine. We had amazing fights over politics and religion but we we never put anger in it, we always put what we believe in. Our arguments were very intellectual with a lot of discussion. Going back to my childhood, I have had ‘three lives’. I had the ‘U.S.S.R. life’ — I was born during the U.S.S.R. — I had life in the independent Ukraine and I am British. So I can trace, I can sense — the same thing — I have tasted life in three different dimensions, while he has tasted life in one dimension.
I remember when I was a kid I had to do some physical work to help him: to preserve some potatoes for the winter, and I always wanted to innovate the process and he always stuck to the way he was taught by his grandfather. So obviously the method used to do that was from generation upon generation before him — and he believed in the functionality of it — it worked, so why do we have to change? At that time I was questioning everything.
His understanding of time and the world was very different, he was amazed by how life had changed in general but also he believed in safety, which was his main priority. I understand why because his father died when he was 7 and he was left with 7 siblings. So he was the eldest kid to look after all the others, people were reliant on him.
My mum did end up as an accountant. To be honest I don’t think she has ever met my grandfathers criteria and the standards he wanted her to be. I remember my mum used to work as an accountant in a secret U.S.S.R. manufacturer of electronics, for building rockets and satellites. Because the economy was so linked, when the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the whole economy went to pieces and none of the country could function on its own, because the economy wasn’t able to function.
She gave up the job and she started going to Moscow to buy goods and bring them to the Ukraine, where we lived, and she had a little market stall. It gave an amazing financial impact on my family, that’s when life changed for good, for better. That’s when my parents bought their first car, when they got a new flat and when my mum tasted life for the first time. I can’t say it was luxury — it was luxury on her scale. It was affording food she wanted to have. This gave her the push and she has never worked for anyone else since. She became self-employed and she had a little business trading, with my father, until my father passed away 7 years ago and my mum was left alone. But, she is doing some work and she has got a state pension now.
I became very cool at school because I had a denim jacket on, I became a dealer of denim goods and chewing gums — which were so foreign for that time.
I was probably 14 or 15 at this point. It was a very important time in my life because when you hit teenage years, you are realising what money is, what can money buy and it is a turning point in your life. We had some family members in Poland and when U.S.S.R. and Ukraine opened the borders, they started bringing Polish goods to the Ukraine. I became very cool at school because I had a denim jacket on, I became a dealer of denim goods and chewing gums — which were so foreign for that time.
I used to hang out with the coolest kids at school, because if they wanted a denim jacket they had to go through me! I was bringing them to my flat, introducing them to my Polish relatives and they were getting denim jackets. I wasn’t making money, my family were making money, but I was the link.
When I was 5, I wanted to be a dentist. My aunty was a dentist’s nurse and because I wasn’t in a kindergarten I was spending time with her at her work. I always wanted to be a dentist and a driver, because my uncle — my aunty’s husband — was a driver and my father was a driver and my Granddad was a driver. I always loved machinery — and cars were something I loved — and I think it continued until probably you get a driving licence, and then something that you dreamt of, you can do. Then you get different dreams.
By the time I was 20, I was already studying modern art at the art college. Every time I was going down town I was passing by a local university and I saw the students leaning against the fence and having very visual, very emotional conversations, and I wanted to taste the same. I didn’t have a dream of what I would like to study, I wanted to be a part of that group. I have to say that I was very bad at school, I had C, B, it was never A’s but at the Art College, I started paying attention — at school I was just lazy — and at Art college I got a lot of A’s.
This gave me a straightforward way to the university, and I decided to study classical drawing. I became a part of those students on the fence, in the same place and it was amazing. My student years were absolutely beautiful. I loved the communication, I had the subjects I loved and the subjects I completely ignored and I knew the price I am going to pay but, philosophy, psychology, drawings, it was my favourite.
The whole student society, hanging out, going out, events, it was so civilised, it was something I could imagine in the films and what I saw in the films. It was such a liberation for me and after the second year I decided to leave home. In the Ukraine it is a really, really big step to leave your parent’s home because Ukraine is very similar to Italy. It’s always Mama is cooking, you can be married with children and live in the same home. I couldn’t face that.
Before art school and university I was taking after school classes in wood carving and I really loved it. That related to my first money earning experience: someone saw my work, a wooden carving board on the table, and asked who made it. It was my first order from the Czech Republic to make 80 sets of cuckoo clocks. I earned $600 on my Summer holiday and I have never asked my parents for money since. That was my first salary and that was a massive boost of, I cannot say confidence as I didn’t know the word confidence but, I think, faith in myself. I realised that the only person that can change my life is myself and I felt that I was completely in charge of my own life.
I arrived in England with 4 still wet t-shirts because I didn’t have time to wash and I left all the past behind. I knew…I had enough of it.
I have to say who has ever lived in the U.S.S.R. whatever you do after is great. I can’t say I had a great life during the U.S.S.R. I don’t know why but it was so censored, everything on every level. I love Soviet attributes and style, and Rodchenko’s style of all the posters, because it created such a unique culture in the vacuum society, which, it has become art. But life in it, I don’t think it was great. It was great for an average thinking person but whenever you wanted to go different way, you were blocked.
I graduated from University and next day I jumped on a coach to Britain. So I got a coach from a big city in Ukraine called Lviv and it took 36 hours. I remember when I got clearance at immigration and we got on the ferry from Calais to Dover and I didn’t talk to anyone the whole journey. And then it was sunrise and it was 5 o’clock in the morning, it was such a warm day, and there was this guy travelling as well and he looked different and he didn’t talk to anyone. I got so curious about him because I felt he had something ‘Westerned’, something Western about the way he looked, the way he thought. We started chatting and he said to me “Study, it is the only thing that will push you forward”. And those words have always rung in my head like a wake up bell.
There were people on the coach with Ukrainian jams and honey and stuff, I hated it because they were bringing luggage, I felt they didn’t want to change. I arrived in England with 4 still wet t-shirts because I didn’t have time to wash and I left all the past behind. I knew…I had enough of it.
I remember the day I arrived in England and I remember it felt it was home. I didn’t know where, what, it was. It was the smell, it was the air temperature, it was even the way people behaved, it was the perfumes they were wearing. It was such a shock for me to where I came from and where I ended up — and it was such a great beginning of the journey, it was such an unknown beginning of the journey but I knew it was going to be a great journey.
The reason why Britain is so important to me is Britain allowed me to be myself and that’s why Britain became this haven for me which has…which is important to me in so many different ways. I always said that Britain is the Step-Mother you always wished to have. It is the best Step-Mother you can have.
I always believed that you can make home where you are. You don’t have to have a particular building, I have always called every room that I rented in London home.
My current home is the best place I’ve ever lived. I never thought I would be able to live in a place like this, I don’t know why, It looks so posh but I don’t feel posh. Every time I put the key in the door I still cannot believe that is where I live. I don’t know why because it’s just people who live there, they make it posh. Nothing else is posh about it, because it used to be a school and was built in 1881.
I managed to get the house when the market was its lowest and accidentally I end up surrounded by people who are art critics, and doctors and stuff and I’m there, a barista.
I guess I love the silence at home….I just love that. I think with silence comes truth and in silence you see things you don’t want to see and home is the place you can relax and allow those things to enter your head. You can have a discussion, you can open up to yourself. Silence can be very loud. Really, really loud. It’s so difficult to see the truth about yourself especially. And because the truth, it can be painful, it could be something you don’t want to know about yourself, but in silence you face yourself.
I’m a barista, a coffee man. Physically I work 4 days a week, and it’s 40 hours. Mentally I am always at work. I can’t disconnect with the shop because I think Coffee @33 is the only real relationship I’ve got.
There is nothing wrong with perfection. When I make coffee I try to accumulate my whole previous experience into that cup of coffee I am making you. And at that point of the time I am trying to achieve perfection. I think when…when mum says goodbye to you when you are leaving or mum hugs you that is perfection because no one else can do that.
The unity of people through a drink, it always amazes me how many people became friends through my shop, coffee has an amazing impact. I had a vision, I always knew, because it wasn’t a question if, it was when, I have a coffee shop. And I had a vision of a man sitting with a single espresso and reading The Guardian for as long as he wanted. That’s the vision that drove me towards the coffee shop, and this is the reason we never clear cups before you are in the shop. That cup of coffee, it’s your anchor to be in the shop, and you can stay as long as you want. You know, I hate when you have your last sip of coffee and someone says “Oh would you like another one?” No I won’t.
I used to work for Tinderbox London and we were making 3000 coffees a day but we never had one-to-one relationship with the customer and that’s what we’ve got at 33. Because we remember the orders, we know how you feel and strangely enough, people will tell us the truth. We know if someone feels shit, they tell me. And I love that because…And I think without realising, as you said, it is a society, it is a network of people, you know, going through that.
I am so grateful that people open up to me and tell me “You know Taras, I am divorcing,” and it’s fantastic because as people imagine British society: so closed and reserved, people are closed and reserved because they are ignored and they are not listened to. Or someone does not want to listen to their problems. We have become that stranger on a train journey, that people are not afraid because we don’t judge, I think.
It’s probably 6 months ago, it’s almost a year, we had a customer who was coming for coffee 3 times a day, had cappuccino with 3 sugars, and he lived in a council estate in that tall building, the twin towers…and he hung himself. We were gutted. He never bothered you, he was always quietly in the queue there, and you ask him…he just says “Hello” but there was always an element of sadness in his eyes. It was a really, really sad day when we realised that he was not with us anymore. Seeing someone 3 times a day, probably for the past 2 years, and choosing us as a shop…you know, if he wanted a coffee fix, he could have gone to any other coffee place you know, I don’t know, something drove him towards our shop.
A day off for me means a cup of coffee to start with and then a call to Ame (my business partner) to find out how the shop is doing. I have a very lazy morning, I never do anything serious in the morning. I can’t, my brain doesn’t function. I get the 10:19 train to London, (laughs) it has to be 10:19, I get so upset with myself if I don’t get the 10:19. I feel if I don’t take 10:19 my day is wasted or I’m late for something so important and I don’t know why? It’s just that 10:19 train.
I think the journey to London allows me, again, it can make the parallel with my journey to Britain, sitting at the window seat, I’m always looking forward to passing by Gatwick airport and I see what airlines are there. It’s because it has such an independent life, it’s a country within a country, it has a complete independent operational system and the way it operates and everything has an order there. Everything is in the right place, you know it’s fascinating. I have always been fascinated by planes and airports.
When I get to London I try to avoid crowds. As much as I like to walk I can’t stand passing by Buckingham Palace with the tourists and cameras. My favourite walk from Victoria is thorough Green Park and there is a little mews, where the Royal buildings are, there’s a little passage I always like to take and then you end up on Dover Street, there’s always little people and that’s nice. I always go for lunch first. And then I just go for a coffee, maybe a bit of shopping. I like buying socks.
What’s missing from my life? Hmm…. I’ve never had a relationship I’ve always wanted. I will explain why. I have never had a role model in my life who I could look at and say “Oh my god, they have had an amazing relationship”. I have never seen my parents happy, I’ve always seen my granny and my granddad bickering and my uncle and my aunty never holding hands. I have never had a family holiday. So, I think I am asking too much because I am looking for perfection and I could never achieve that because people say that a relationship is to, kind of, use each other. I don’t believe in it, I believe that relationships should be because you want to be with that person and unfortunately the domestic stuff brings its corrections into a relationship and different events happen, and you come back from work in a different mood.
But there is something I’m looking for, is that purity — when people are not afraid to say what they feel. Because we are so protected with spikes and we are so central inside, that sometimes people next to you could be the most important but we are afraid of something, we are afraid. I think people love cats and dogs more because they can’t get a “No” from them. And I think humans are so terrified of your response. That unconditional love towards the animals sometimes scares me.
I felt like I always prioritised relationships more than anything else and sometimes it worked in a damaging way because people are maybe not ready to take that, but then, then you learn but, if you can’t be yourself with the person you are with it’s not really working.
I think society in different decades had a very different meaning. I think society during the war meant to survive together. Society post-war, it was the husbands were at work and the housewives were gossiping outside. Where I was brought up, it was a great mass, a grey mass of people who have to obey to the rules. And, in current time society is lot different because we are so busy with our lives. Sometimes people live in the same building without knowing their neighbours, and I understand that because you come back home so exhausted. Society has become Facebook friends and chatting online, and that has become a society (laughs).
It is a very difficult question because now Mr Cameron talks about society, society, society, I don’t think it exists in the same way it has. People have become so individual and your home has become the society, your home has become this fortress, this castle, where your life is. I hope my neighbours are alright.
I can tell you, in my block of flats, there are 23 flats. I know quite a few of people, I don’t have any really personal relationships with the neighbours except one, her name is Pauline, and she is amazing. We have dinners, we hang out in the garden. She works in Charleston House in Firle, she’s very educated and I have very lovely conversations with her. And to be honest I don’t need more and I don’t need less.
I think those relationships are on the perfect level to satisfy both of us. She broke her leg, we looked after her. When my partner Rob had an injury a couple of months ago and I had to come to work, she was the only one I could rely on.
I don’t moan because…I think because I am happy.
I cannot stand people that moan, it irritates the hell out of me. It drives me absolutely insane. I think our customers are people enjoying what they are doing, we have very creative customers. Everyone has a story to tell and I absolutely love that, I love that aspect of my job. When I go back to Ukraine, I see a lot of people who moan and people moan for different reasons. But as my friend Helen from Ukraine says “If someone moans, give them a passport to Ukraine and take the British one away” and then they will make the journey back and they will never moan again.
I do believe in the power of money. I can’t say I’m a guy who doesn’t believe in it. I love making money, because business is about making money, and to succeed you have to be financially secure. What I am saying is that to make money, to create enough income to pay rent, to create income, to afford members of staff and to buy a coffee machine, it’s all based on finances, and it’s a side of the business you cannot ignore. Making money gives me a lot of drive.
I like formulas, I like knowing where I am standing with the figures in the shop. I like talking to my suppliers and I like a challenge. Because business wouldn’t be called business without it.
Money helped me to have home in the U.K. because I needed it for the deposit. Money buys me a ticket to go and see my mum, to see people I love — I care about, and money helped me to go and see places I like. I have lent so much money to my friends that I have never seen back. I don’t regret it because I hope the money they have consumed helped them to make some conclusions as well, and I hope they used money in the right way.
But I cannot say that money is the main drive in my life. It’s a secondary thing, or third, or fourth. There are a lot more things that stand forward of that. I never thought that business would come to that point, in terms of turn over. I could never have imagined those figures. Because when we opened the shop we had no financial experience — neither of us. And we approached business from the other side, we said “How many coffees do we have to sell?”
I think that the purpose of life is to enjoy what you are given, what you are given for free. I was watching the last episode of Mad Men and one guy said to Tom Draper that “The best things in life are free” and it’s so true. Because you can ignore a sunny day like today, you can say “Oh my god, I’ve got to pay the mortgage” but a mortgage is something that gives you a home. We can make a decision of spending a whole day on the sofa, or having a walk on the beach. So I guess I want to believe my purpose of life is to make someone happy, who I have been with, I am with and I am going to be with. I would like to believe that.
What the reality of it is I don’t know. I do enjoy what nature is giving me. I like travelling and exploring, and I think the moment we are born our purpose is to explore yourself. It is probably the most difficult task you can face. Because exploring yourself: you do it from the day you are born until the day you die and everything else that comes with it.
Jon Mills is a metalworker and sculptor based in Preston Park, Brighton
Originally photographed for Mini Maker Faire Brighton.
Curator - Natural Sciences
My name is Lee Ismail. I work at the Booth Museum in Brighton.
My job involves a number of responsibilities, including the preparation, planning and set up of exhibitions on and off site, research of objects and external enquiries, preparation of new objects and loan items including taxidermy and preparing wet specimens (pickled). Working with community groups and other orginisations and departments on projects like the Level restoration, Horsham museum exhibition and Conservation of objects and displays
I also conducting tours of stores for artists and researchers, manage publicity events and journalistic interviews and I look after the schools loan service.
Abigail Hitchcock is a Chef and Restaurant Owner in New York City, USA. She also runs cookery classes.
Artist, maker and teacher
Ruby Taylor is an artist maker and teacher based in Lewes.
Originally photographed for Mini Maker Faire Brighton.
Daisy Jordan is an artist and puppeteer based in Kemptown, Brighton.
Originally photographed for Mini Maker Faire Brighton.