My childhood down here in Devon, while surrounded by spectacular scenery, was spectacularly desolate. I was found on the steps of the church as a newborn baby and taken in by the man who found me and his wife, a couple whose names I can never bring myself to mention, other than the surname they gave me: Folkes. The older I grew, the more they detested me. Why they didn't give me to the authorities I will never know, but until I was 16 I had no idea that that was an option. The house on the cliffs where I was brought up was the only home I knew, and misery and neglect at home at least was the only life I knew.
There were basic meals, no birthday presents, one mirror by the front door, and endless weekends spent in my bedroom. If there were outings, for example one to Hay Tor, I was frequently left behind on walks. If there was a thunderstorm, I wasn't comforted. And whenever my red hair grew too long and curly, they hacked it off.
I refuse to dwell on it too much because there were three outlets from the house on the cliffs which took me away increasingly, and kept me sane, other than school and art college, which I loved. There was the local stables where I used to groom and muck out the horses and ended up exercising them, taking classes, and even sleeping there most of the holidays. Then there was my cousin Polly, whose parents were pretty much estranged from the people I lived with. They never came to visit, and I rarely if ever met them, but she was often packed down to Devon and when she arrived the behaviour in the house was marginally less distant but we were let loose from the house and allowed, once we were about 11 or 12, to sleep on the beach and roam like wild animals. She told me about her life in London, about money, clothes, make up and sex. Which leads to my third outlet. Jake. My hunky local lover. When I was 16 we lost our virginity to each other in his old caravan in a field, and I went and lived with him there. If the people I lived with put up a fight, I don't remember it. I probably shouted louder than them by then, and the old man was getting ill. Jake was my world for two years, but when I went travelling my horizons expanded. I met people and saw things things through my camera lens which meant when I came back to Devon I felt differently about everything. The people in the house on the cliffs both died. The best thing they ever did. That and leaving me tons of money. And I was ready to spread my wings.
I'm sorry if I sound hard, but the funny thing is that, partly thanks to Jake and Polly and now to Gustav, the man I met as soon as I hit London, I'm still soft as butter inside. Though I keep it as well hidden as I can.
I did return to Devon after the people in the house on the cliffs died. Once to attend the funeral and to split up with Jake. And once when I thought me and Gustav were finished. I went and stayed at the Burgh Island, a luxury art deco hotel off the coast of South Devon to allow Jake to interview me for a local rag when my first photographic exhibition in London. One of the happiest sights in my short life, though I didn't admit it at the time, was seeing Gustav, wrapped against the cold in his red scarf, standing on the sea tractor bringing him across the high tide to the island to claim me once again.