Our arrival in Stoke-On-Trent was defined by the warmth of a Mother greeting her son, and his wife at his very own familial doorstep; first and foremost.
    Affection, and wide-eyed wonderment at my own progress, and that of my younger brother followed a very close second. Standing upright and taking us both in gaze, "the little ducks.." she would coo, and then, ushered inside, hurriedly so as not to prolong an already long journey across two giant continents, all of us, into a diminutive terraced house in Northwood.  Through the coolness of the 'parlour' and into the living room with it's more homely, lived-in feel and congenial smell of home cooking drifting in from the kitchen. Chairs hurriedly pulled up; "sit thee down, sit thee down, make yourself at home..", Grandma, fussing, and offering, with a question to instantly define to us all of now being at the heart of home as it remains, and will always intend to be, evaporating the divide of a whole expanse of globe; "dus't thee want some snappin' lad" ? to laughter, and to translate as 'Bacon, Cheese and Tommies with Oatcakes.' 'Wheer's Jim ?' my father would ask in an acknowledging nod to his working class upbringing in the colloquialism; a loving inquisition intoning respect for his parents through a new found confident humour, and subliminally perhaps, an assertion to the matriarch of his own independence in a brave new world beyond the confines of his childhood home. Laughter again.  
There was never any answer to this as it was already known that 'Jim' was at work until his work was done. Appetites satiated by the homecoming meal made in the way of deep tradition amidst jovial conversation that I'm sure started the familiarisation process of my father to his home once more, my mother now expressed her own need to get home. Her home of growing up years, and that of only her parents now. Somewhere in her absence, her younger sibling had long flown the nest, to get married, and start her own home and family. And so she would lead us the walk, cutting up through the alleyways of childhood shortcuts that intersected the two-street distance between the two Grandparents homes -  that in itself, is the story of my family history - the love of two people that grew up in the same neighbourhood, starting in Sunday school at the local church.  I'm told that one street made clear the delineation of two very different types of community. Square miles of very long streets of terraced housing it may look like, but my Mother came from Birches Head you see, and the home of her upbringing was very different. The doorbell was of assertive volume, and it was answered by my Gran with hugs and a kiss bestowed on all three of us. My Mum grew up in a very different house; noticeably bigger, and once inside in the small hallway past the staircase to one side, and a door to a front room on the other, we were into a minimal but no less homely living room at the back conjoined to the smallest kitchen I have ever seen, separated by a fascinating sliding door.     The door to the garden outside was always open, and we always knew that Grandad would be outside… always in memory as creosoting the fence! And the smell of such filled the summer air.  We couldn't wait to nosey around his fascinating garden shed full of tools and mini-drawers filled with nuts and bolts..

    Being called 'duck' by everybody was constantly amusing and bewildering too !!

    The Stoke-On-Trent of my childhood I remember through a great many excursions into Hanley. It's mostly memories of shopping escapades through big tiresome shops, never-ending racks of clothes; Marks & Spencers, British Home Stores, Bratt & Dykes, Woolworths and a multitude more I'm sure mostly with an energetic and inspired Mum as she re-acquainted herself with home, delighting herself in fashion not available in the midst of Africa.:, Stoke-On-Trent didn't make sense in any overall contextual picture.  We played cricket on Hanley Forest Park with Dad, Uncles and Granddads, we were taken to the places where they spent growing up.
    A grand overview however came from the trips around the city on the Potteries Motor Traction Company double-decker buses with my Grandfather.  Always from the front seat on the top deck- as a bus conductor with the company, he seemed to know and speak to everybody! And drew endless attention to us from amused and bemused onlookers and passengers alike to the fact that we were from Africa!  Through him, 'The Potteries' came into life but not really in any coherent context; no particular journey springs to mind but a great many snippets; mini-experiences. I always asked him to take me to see the Spitfire, housed in it's glass 'greenhouse' building opposite the construction site that turned out as the present City Museum and Art Gallery. I fancied it back then too, as I still do. The glass balcony sections at the corners of the giant slab-like second floor, resembling 'gun turrets' from an aircraft I always fantasised.
    I remember the meat market in the Tontine building and Webberley's bookshop. I remember walking back to Birches Head along Old Town Road looking down into the remnants of the old Port Vale ground being cleared to make way for the foundations of the Potteries Shopping Centre. I remember the journey into Longton bus station, and then walking around Longton town, walking along to the park… On other rides on other days; past Shelton Bar, the huge gasometer. Railway lines and steel mills. Journeys up to Burslem and the massive dark Town Hall. Beyond, and into Tunstall. Indoor markets; Tunstall, Stoke, Longton and Hanley, teeming with life. Oatcakes and cups of tea.  To Cobridge to visit his sisters, and off to the park that had rides and contraptions to send a modern day health and safety inspector crazy with delirium. I remember a trip to Gladstone Museum, and Chatterley Whitfield, and my certificate to say I'd been down the shaft.  
        
    Could there be more colourful contrast between this ancient industrial city of Stoke-On-Trent and that of my childhood life in Africa ?.



Stoke-On-Trent is in their blood, but is it in mine ?



    From the very first year into my life I used to visit this city every three years. For me personally this event was the big family holiday; an undertaking of such immense magnitude and the ultimate pinnacle of those in-between years of anticipation. To my parents it was the homecoming. My memories of these trips are still exciting; huge and heavy suitcases bulging at the seams, climbing the stairs up to the aircraft wondering how something so big was going to get off the ground. The thrust of take-off engines being awesome until we rode the air beneath the wings. I remember the pilot on a VC10 tipping the aircraft so we could see the top of Kilimanjaro on a particularly clear day from thrity-five thousand feet. I remember the heat, dirt and squalor of Addis Ababa.  Rome, freezing in the middle of the night whilst the aircraft refuelled. I'd flown the equivalent of halfway around the earth in air-miles by the time I was about twelve!  In later years I remember sharing a whole Jumbo Jet with about twenty people!  I generally associate no particular memory with a precise affinity to any particular age. Until the day came when I made the break from my family and resolved to begin my own journey 'in England', as I referred to it, I could have been five years old, or eight….

    Is Stoke-On-Trent really my home ? My parents always called it home like it should instil some sense of belonging to both me and my brother, but it didn't mean anything. "One day we will all come home, we won't stay in Malawi forever.." they used to say to us.
    I could never picture it. They were born here, grew up and played on these streets and went to school here. They were involved in big families, previous generations of people I have only hazy memories of, but familiarity in name; and that is what I find so important - that our involvement in history is closer than we think. Especially as I think about it more.


    
    Walking through this city constantly, as I do, I'm looking for pieces of my family's memories, people now lost to history; what they saw and knew, what they were a part of. That is the story emerging through my art.
    I walk through the peaceful landscape of Forest Park and it is just that to me, but to them it was always the blight of Hanley Deep Pit, which in turn was a part of the wider industrial landscape that included Shelton Bar - that was their world until Forest Park evolved out of it through a very long history of social change. 'The Racecourse' (An area of ground pre-dating Shelton Bar within the vast area of land devoted to the steelworks and coal mines) was not a footnote in history to them; it was a place intrinsic to their lives, and their parents lives further back still. My great-great-grandfather started work at Shelton Bar when he was fourteen!! There was only ever this industrial hell in his lifetime, and now, in this age, I only read about it, but I am linked to it.


    The powers in Stoke-On-Trent very nearly systematically obliterated all traces of it's industrial architectural history (to much public outcry, and lament by historians and social commentators; some say naively, and others say 'fiendishly' so as not to be saddled to the cost of historic preservation in the bigger picture of redevelopment) and thus what remains of the architecture of that bygone age in it's ceramic heyday now carries that story forward, in a physical sense. ( A fantastic photographic archive of bygone Stoke-On-Trent is constant currency for the city's museums and press, to which there is great endearment and enthusiasm for it.)
    When I first started to photograph bottle kilns and historic buildings out of mild curiosity, I unwittingly started an enthusiastic reaction to it by showing the resultant images to a local art gallery. Thus; as I have shot more, and exhibited more, and been published in print, (The travel writer Leigh G. Banks 'discovered' my images in the afore-mentioned art gallery and invited me to be a part of a book he was commissioned to write about the city by developing a visual storyline to run alongside his body of writing), and online (The historian Steve Birks who 'writes' a website devoted to the city's past used my bottle kiln images).
     I have created demand for it even. I dare say it has developed a life of it's own (among the creative's in the city it stands as a body of creative fine art photography, and to the public at large it seems to invoke all manner of curiosity from both a historical perspective, and a nostalgic one too which is of significant interest as this is the spearhead of my project).  Public reaction to my work has shown me where the story appears to be heading, and it has also shown me that there is an emerging generation that know little or nothing of the city's former life (as the city's demographic identity changes) and it even educates, or introduces a beginning to the city from those who have adopted this city as their home (as I have ?).  Each isolated building or structure is frozen into the present by a listing order that guarantees it's preservation, surrounded by things from this present age, whether it be street furniture, or within the context of new buildings and developments, but quite often it has no story to go with it, or a story not being told loudly enough apparently. It's place in the new city makes it a curiosity of sorts and imbues it with a story to tell, and my work, the reactions from my exhibitions inform me, is to tell it, and although I am by no means alone, I appear to be unique enough to tell a very different tale. A tale from the outside looking in; I might be genetically linked to this city, but has it adopted me ? Is my story valid, or am I just a tourist ?