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Why I wrote Nan

Nan coverIt’s just over 24 years since Nan died – so why suddenly write a little book about her now?

I read somewhere that most people are ‘forgotten’ within three or four generations. We hand down stories about our parents and grandparents – but beyond that, things tend to get a little hazy. I never met my great-grandmother, Gertrude – we missed one another by just over a year – but thanks mainly to Mum and Nan, I’ve been armed with enough colourful anecdotes and black and white photographs to form a vague picture of the kind of person she was. But that’s all it is: vague.

Nan, however, lives large in my mind. I don’t think a day has passed when I haven’t looked at her photograph, said her name out loud or at least thought of her. I can still hear her voice. And if I close my eyes and focus, I can feel her hand in mine. I miss her terribly.

I don’t want Nan’s memory to fade away to nothing. But Tom and I don’t have any children. We’re the last of the line in both our families. There’s nobody obvious to pass these stories on to. In the main, this doesn’t worry me. I can’t grieve for people who never existed. It’s exhausting enough grieving for the ones who actually did. And yet…

It’s hit me harder over the past two-and-a-half years since Dad died. The family home where I grew up – an end-of-terrace house with Nan’s little flat on the side – is finally empty, and Tom and I have been tackling the gargantuan task of clearing out everything my family ever owned. The clothes, the crockery, the furniture, the toys, the ornaments, the plethora of vintage sporting equipment: most of them are easy enough to part with. But what about all the photographs, the letters and the other little mementos that somehow clung on through time?

Some people would have just chucked them all in a skip. And I know that’s what will happen eventually – but not on my watch! They’ve helped me through the grieving process, to revisit the happy and not-so-happy days of the past and to tell the story of my Nan, and my relationship with her.

Nan was my ‘third parent’. I was so lucky to have her – particularly when my other two parents were pretty special, too. She spent her entire life looking after other people and never wanting anything more than what she already had. I wish I could be more like her.

So in short, I wrote Nan because I wanted to share her story. I didn’t want her to be forgotten. I wanted somewhere to store all these anecdotes and memories. I really hope you enjoy it…

Buy Nan for £6 plus postage; half of all profits will go to Age UK.

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Bid for this Trust.iCon print and help the hospice

The Dark Side Trust i.Con

We’re very excited to announce that we’ll be auctioning The Dark Side – a limited-edition silkscreen print by street artist Trust.iCon – to raise funds for St Christopher’s hospice, in memory of Gordon Gibbens  (or ‘Dad’, as I prefer to call him). Make your bid here.

When we published How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While), we were overwhelmed by the response from the graffiti and street art community – many of whom had got to know Dad over the years, and had grown accustomed to him popping up behind them with his camera when they were working on a wall.

Trust.iCon had never met Dad. But when he found out about the book from Steve at London Calling Blog, he immediately bought four copies and posted about it on Instagram, generating lots more sales and more much-needed funds for the hospice. And then he went a step further and sent us this amazing print (plus a couple more – so watch this space)…

We’re hugely grateful to Trust.iCon for this truly amazing gesture. And we know Dad would be so pleased and proud, too – although, like us, he’d be hugely tempted to keep the print for himself!

As I mentioned in the book, we made a special trip to Queen’s Park on Christmas Eve 2016 so that Dad could take a picture of a new piece by Trust.iCon that had popped up next to the station. It took us about two-and-a-half hours to get there by train and bus. And we only got the shot after a florist agreed to dismantle his stall, which had been obscuring the work.

That wasn’t our only stop that day, though. We then headed for Latimer Road to see another new work by Trust.iCon that Dad was desperate to photograph…

(Dad was happier about it than his expression in this picture would suggest – honestly!)

Nearly three years on, and – thanks to London Calling Blog’s SprayExhibition20 project – Trust.iCon is now a regular visitor to Penge, where Tom and I live. There’s a Snoopy-based work on a garden wall just round the corner from Colossive Towers, and this Trump-meets-Lucy masterpiece from earlier in the year has become a firm favourite with everyone…

So even if you live miles away – Queen’s Park or Latimer Road, for instance – and it’s a bit of an effort to get to Penge on a freezing cold winter’s day, it’s well worth coming to see…

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Things My Dad Saw (That Didn’t Make The Book)


After Mum died in March 1995, Dad never went back to his job in a sports shop. He was heartbroken, exhausted and not *that* far off retirement age anyway. Instead, he began to spend more and more time out with his camera in London – taking countless photographs of the city he knew and loved. But he didn’t always think to mention where he’d been and what he’d seen. And I didn’t always think to ask…

Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) is a – sort of – prequel to How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While). It’s a collection of Dad’s London street photography – Stop the War marches, performing budgies, naked bike rides and more – dating from the late 1990s to around 2012.

In compiling this book, I was once again faced with a huge challenge: which pictures to use from the many, many albums and memory cards Dad left behind?

Picture quality was a major consideration. Not all the negatives from the pre-digital shots survived and many of the A5 scans just weren’t good enough to make the final cut – which is why this one of the Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace ended up in the ‘overs’ pile…
Royals on balcony

There were also lots of pictures of celebrities: Gordon Ramsay running the London Marathon; Dawn French strolling through Trafalgar Square; and a delightful close-up of Rolf Harris at an art fair, taken back when he was a much-loved family entertainer and adopted national treasure, rather than… well… you know…

Quick! Let’s change the subject – here’s that nice Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet…

Tony Hadley

Oh, and here’s another picture that didn’t make the book: writer and broadcaster Robert Elms interviewing a giant hamster…

Now, that’s something you don’t see every day.

All profits from Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) are going to St Christopher’s Hospice. Price £5, you can buy a copy online; at the hospice reception in Sydenham; at next week’s DIY Space for London Zine Fair in Peckham; or at the Northwest Zinefest in Manchester at the end of July.

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Four new pages added to How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life…

After a flurry of surprise sales at London Calling Blog‘s Penge street art tour earlier this month, we had to order another print run of How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While).

So I took the opportunity to add a four-page postscript with a couple of new images: Roo‘s lovely wall from the Anything’s Better Than A Blank Wall paint jam, which was dedicated to Dad, earlier in the year; and Airborne Mark‘s beautiful Raven, a tribute wall to Dad, just round the corner from our house. Both of these were organised by the tireless Steve at London Calling Blog.

Raven by Airborne Mark

When I was first compiling the book, I tried to include as many works as possible from Dad’s favourite artists. But I had 33,000 images to choose from – and that’s just the ones he’d put on Flickr! (I’ve since found hundreds more that were just in albums.) Inevitably, there were a few glaring omissions in that first edition. I would list some of the more obvious names here – but I know I’d end up forgetting someone important again.

I will say, however, that Roo was among those omissions. Dad was always pleased to see her, and she’d happily stop work to talk to him. We took him to see her brilliant work in Tower Hamlets Cemetery a couple of months before he died. So I’m very pleased she’s in this new edition.

Roo

Hopefully, I’ll be able to squeeze a few more artists into the next print run – and eventually I can rest easy, knowing everyone’s in there. I wonder if the world is ready for a 33,000-page book, though…