Tam Daiche is twenty-two and, miraculously at his age, in his first job as a tutor in the School of Art. Despite being excited by recent events in Paris in 1968, Tam is politically naïve and ignorant about local politics in the city.
Fotheringale Hall, the ancient pile of the Rogerson-Stukeleys, is falling into ruin. It has one occupant, Reginald, aka Reggie, Rogerson-Stukeleys, the scion of a once rich and famous family. Reggie is lazy and filled with an inherited sense of entitlement.
Harry is ten years old. Every day he wishes he could earn money and buy food. Perhaps then his Mum, Mel, wouldn’t be so sad; she always tries to be cheerful but he hears her crying every night. During term time Harry eats at school but, in the ‘hungry holidays’ they use the St Giles’ church food bank; it’s that or starve.
Josh is a failed screenwriter in California and he’s broke; it’s tough and the last weeks have been even tougher. At forty-two he didn’t expect a DVT in both legs. Nor had he planned to lie that his mother was dying to persuade British Airways to carry him back to England for her last Christmas.
Roberto is flummoxed by what to buy his wife, Angelina de Castiglione, for Christmas, a decision made more important by the fact that she is also his employer. His dilemma is complicated, as usual, by his fear of being caught in his serial infidelities and losing his position. Naively, he believes overwhelmingly extravagant presents will convince her of his undying devotion. The best, or worst, example of his stupidity was the Triumph Herald, wrapped in a huge pink bow. Her reaction confirmed his mistake: If I want to go anywhere you drive me there, and why on earth would I want to travel in a toy car? He excused himself by thinking, No one knows how hard it is being married to a bossy old cow; no wonder I need a bit on the side.
Monsignori Abbatelli, sixty-seven, enjoys his honorific title bestowed by the Holy Father for his lifelong service he gives pilgrims to Rome and the poor. His sense of importance is shown by an immaculate tailored black suit, black braces, black shirt, clerical collar and patent leather black shoes. He carries a magnificent dark brown leather briefcase embossed with his title and name and wears a superb black Borsalino hat. But in the end, he believes his demeanour does the trick, as he struts like his idol, Marcello Mastroianni.
Her studio is a place of alchemy. The room is large, the corniced ceiling high, the windows tall and the light benign. There are grand glass fronted cupboards containing the skulls of birds, rabbits, a long-horned chamois, a stuffed cockatoo, an enormous star fish, a conch, fossils, the hip bone of an ass, the jaw bone of a Scottish Blackface sheep and the skeletal head of a peacock as well as a black and white photograph of Lucien Freud shaving. She removes the peacock’s head.
It is 1955. The chunky triangular metal control knob of the electric washing machine is of grey ribbed metal. It has three positions: on, spin, off. The machine, Thor, is statuesque with the graceful presence reminiscent of a First World War tank.
On Ogmore beach the sea is calm, the wind is still and all is at peace. It is the 17th of August 1950. In North Korea the last of thirty-nine American prisoners of war are executed on Hill 303.
Roger, aged six, is with his parents, Martin and Janet. Summer sun shines as he stands on a sandy path holding a metal Mickey Mouse bucket in his hand. He wears a short-sleeved shirt, short trousers, white ankle length socks and buckled sandals.