We were incredibly honoured – albeit utterly terrified – when the wonderful Wallis Eates invited us to talk all things Colossive at January’s LDComics online meet-up.
We’d never done anything like this before, but we somehow managed to wax lyrical about some of our favourite topics – including comics, street art and loss – using a decades-old comic story by Tom (below) to kick things off.
Our ‘set’ also saw the unveiling of the Colossive Manifesto, which we’ve now had printed on to postcards. We’re sending them out with every order and will be leaving them in pubs and foisting them on unsuspecting punters at zine fairs. So you’ll all get a copy soon enough – whether you want one or not.
Ahem. Sorry for that brief interruption. It recently occurred to us that we hadn’t posted anything on here for the past 18 months. So we’d now like to start to rectify the situation. And as luck would have it, we’ve got some ready-made long reads for you, thanks to the amazing coverage we’ve been given by the tireless Andy Oliver at Broken Frontier.
I’m being facetious with that headline, of course. But not so long ago, I spotted a tweet from someone saying that they only made zines because they couldn’t afford therapy. And that kind of struck a chord with me…
Admittedly, I was lucky enough to receive bereavement counselling for free through St Christopher’s hospice when I was really struggling after Dad died. One of the things I was finding immensely difficult and draining was the gargantuan task of sifting through everything my family ever owned in our old house in West Wickham. Every single object had a memory attached to it. Parting with it forever seemed such a wrench. I was determined to do the right thing by everything – even stuff that had been shoved up in the loft and forgotten about since 1974.
It’s hard to move on from the past when you’re completely surrounded by it. But it was during those counselling sessions that I began to carve a path through. Talking about Dad to someone who’d never met him served to reaffirm what an incredible, unstoppable force he was – and, not for the first time, someone was fascinated to hear how Dad’s passion for photographing street art and graffiti kept him going right to the end. And so the idea for How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While) was born – providing me with an outlet in which to tell Dad’s story and somewhere to showcase a few of the 33,000-plus street art pictures I’d inherited.
More and more things my dad saw
The incredible response to that book definitely helped me turn a corner in the grieving process. But the task of clearing the house remained – with literally hundreds of photo albums still filling the shelves and every other nook and cranny. I had absolutely no intention of throwing away photographs, I hasten to add – but they just wouldn’t all fit into our little house in Penge.
(As an aside, one winter’s day in the early ’00s, I went over to Dad’s house and noted that the temperature wasn’t very different indoors from outdoors. So I decided – not unreasonably – to turn on the gas fire. But then I discovered that the gas fire had been removed. In its place in the hole in the wall were three more shelves filled with photo albums. ‘Dad!‘)
Every time I went to the house, though, it was still full of memories. The more Tom and I removed from it, the more long-forgotten objects seemed to pour out of the walls. An ancient tin of fish food! (My last goldfish died in 1978.) A polystyrene head! (Nope – no idea who bought that or why.) A signed photograph of Ken Dodd! (It’s in a frame by my desk. You don’t honestly think I’d throw that away, do you?) And one day at the start of this year, I was reunited with ‘the radio’, having become convinced I’d accidentally thrown it out shortly after Dad died. Which radio? Well, you’ll have to read Send Me A Sign to find out.
Somehow, though, we finally managed to clear it all. And two weeks ago, I walked out of the home where I grew up for the very last time. It’s somebody else’s home now and I hope they’ll be very happy there. It’s a lovely house. But it’s just a house. And I’ve still got a loft full of photographs and a lifetime of memories to treasure.
The profits from all the titles mentioned here go to St Christopher’s hospice – with the exception of those from Nan, which are shared 50/50 between St Christopher’s and Age UK. Compiling them – with Tom’s help, of course – has certainly helped me through the past few years.
Part of me feels I should leave the past in the loft and start looking to pastures new for my next zine. The only thing is… I’ve just taken delivery of a new viewer/scanner so I can finally look through the huge crate of Dad’s photographic slides from the 1960s and 1970s. Watch this space!
To mark the publication of his new book, Cosmo Chancer – chief curator and artist-in-residence of the Penge Sculpture Trail – talks to Colossive Press…
Colossive Press (CP): Judging by the amount of sculptures around Penge, you’re obviously a very busy man. Thanks for taking time out to talk to us today, Cosmo.
Cosmo Chancer (CC): No worries. I managed to move a few things around for you guys. And my tea won’t be ready until after Coronation Street.
CP: Great. We know you address a little about this in your introduction to the book – but can you tell us how you first became involved with the Penge Sculpture Trail?
CC: Sure. I saw an ad in the News Shopper asking for someone who had experience of rubbish clearance and/or public art. It turned out the ad had been placed by Sir Toby Carvery, who’s Chair of the Penge Chamber of Commerce and Street-Cleaning. He’s also an old friend of my dad’s, as it happens.
Anyway, Sir Toby was looking for someone to do something about the plethora of natural raw materials found on the streets of Penge – mattresses, fridges, shopping trolleys and so forth. I think he was initially looking for someone with a van who’d take stuff away and chuck it on a layby in the middle of the night, no questions asked. But he was also open to ideas. So that’s when I mooted the concept of a Sculpture Trail. And it all took off from there.
CP: Can you talk us through your artistic process?
CC: My work centres around ‘found objects’. It’s about repurposing and reappropriating things that are already there, rather than – you know – going to the untold hassles of creating something new and original.
CP: A bit like Duchamp did with his urinal then?
CC: Sorry. What?
No. I haven’t actually worked with any urinals – yet – but I have incorporated a lot of discarded toilets into my work. There are one or two in the book, in fact. But I’ve also tried to think beyond the obvious and expand the original brief to include other bits and pieces I’ve spotted around Penge.
CP: Ah yes, the half-eaten pork pie on the top deck of the 194 bus is one of our favourites…
CC: Mine, too. It’s wonderful when something just drops in your lap like that. I’ve also done quite a bit of work with traffic cones. Anything can become a work of art if you just look at it for long enough with your head tilted in a certain way.
CP: Quite. There’s also a thriving street art scene in Penge. Have you ever thought about joining forces?
CC: Absolutely not! Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got the utmost respect for those guys. But they put an awful lot of thought and effort into what they do. And that’s really not what I’m about. Their aim is partly to make the streets look better. Mine is to keep the streets looking exactly the same, but different. You get me?
CP: How has the Covid-19 lockdown affected your work?
CC: Mate, it’s been absolutely mental. With everyone stuck at home and the council tip reopening by appointment only, the streets have been heaving with raw materials. Every time I step outside, there’s a new ‘found object’ waiting to receive my magic touch.
CP: It’s amazing that you found time to produce this book. Speaking of which, do you want to tell us a little about it?
CC: Yeah, it’s basically yours truly talking the punters through some of my most celebrated works from the first three years of the Penge Sculpture Trail. There’s a lot of stuff people may not already know – behind-the-scenes anecdotes, local folklore, thought-provoking creative insights, that kind of thing… There are some lovely full-colour photographs and it’s also got a foreword by Sir Toby Carvery.
CP: Finally, Cosmo, do you have a favourite work on the Penge Sculpture Trail?
CC: Oh no! I knew you’d ask me that, and it’s really, really difficult to choose…
CP: It must be a bit like Sophie’s choice…
CC: What? Which of my works did Sophie choose? I bet she loved the stuff with mattresses.
Really, though, I’d have to say that my favourite work is always my next one. Yes, the stuff I’ve done today may be completely out-of-this-world – but just wait until you see what’s coming up tomorrow. The thing about the Penge Sculpture Trail is that there’s always something amazing just around the corner…
It’s been nearly a year in the making. After all, it takes a while to sift through 10,000 photographs. But More Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) is finally here. This is the second collection of Dad’s bizarre and baffling London street photography. And it’s even bigger – and a little bit brighter – than the first.
Like most people, we’ve been trying desperately to look on the bright side of life over recent weeks. And if the global pandemic hadn’t pretty much put us under house arrest, chances are I still wouldn’t have finished going through Dad’s albums. On balance, of course, I’d definitely prefer that to be the case. But it’s also true that – three years after his death – Dad’s been helping us get through the uncertainty, upset and boredom of lockdown.
The photographs he took on his London wanderings have kept us entertained and intrigued as we made the final selection for the book. They’ve also helped us feel connected to the city we love while we haven’t been able to get out there and enjoy it properly for ourselves. There are some sadder shots among them – but on the whole, Dad’s pictures show the capital at its very best. It’s loud. It’s crowded. It’s colourful. And it’s the best place in the world.
Look, I know we could all do without yet more misery at the moment, but please hear me out… Due to you-know-what (I can’t even bear to type its name), our local hospice – St Christopher’s – has had to cancel all the vital fundraising events that were planned for the spring and summer.
It’s 25 years today since my wonderful, irreplaceable mum died – with Dad, Tom and I at her side – at St Christopher’s. And three years ago today, we were having one of the worst days ever at home with Dad, who was suffering severe symptoms stemming from his cancer and a recent hospital-acquired infection. Frankly, it was unbearable.
And then St Christopher’s came to our rescue. Later that week, Dad was admitted to the inpatient unit in Sydenham for symptom control and to give Tom and me a rest. By the weekend, he had perked up considerably and we were able to take him out from the hospice to look at the amazing street art that had started to pop up in Penge.
If you’ve read How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While), you know the rest. Yes, Dad’s love of graffiti and street art gave him (and us) focus and meaning at a time when our world was otherwise falling apart. But it was the invaluable support and care we received from St Christopher’s that really made those final few weeks as smooth and bearable as they possibly could be.
Our family owe St Christopher’s a huge debt, which we’ve been trying to repay in some small way by donating all the profits from How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While) and Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning). As you may know, we’ve now raised more than £2,500, with a little help from our friends. Oh, and I should add that the idea for the graffiti book really came to life during bereavement counselling sessions I received via the hospice.
I’ve also just written a little zine – Send Me A Sign – which is about Mum’s messages from beyond the grave (possibly). It’s only £2, but we’ll be donating all the profits from that to the hospice, too. And we’re already giving half of the profits from Nan to Age UK – but we’ll now give the other half to St Christopher’s.
I realise everyone’s watching their pennies at the moment. And there are lots of other worthy charities across the UK who are feeling the pinch and equally deserving of our support. But, you know, if you’re in the market for a book or zine while you self-isolate/try to ignore the news… Every little helps.
PPS On behalf of Mum, who is doubtless rolling her eyes at me in the afterlife, I would just like to say that – unlike everything else I’ve written for Colossive – my next zine will NOT include any mention of her dying. After all, she did lots of other things, too. And out of everything she did, the bit where she died was definitely my least favourite…
Isn’t it always the way? When I was compiling Nan at the end of last year, I was convinced I’d once seen some photographs of Nan as a little girl. But try as I might – and God knows I tried – I couldn’t find these pictures anywhere.
And then a few days ago – when I was, naturally, searching high and low for something else of great importance – I stumbled across a grey cardboard folder containing around 30 assorted family photographs from way-back-when. (I think Dad assembled this little collection when he was going through his ‘genealogy phase’ in the late 1990s.)
Anyway, here’s the aforementioned picture of Nan when she was about three or four years old, I think…
This would have been taken soon after the rapid change of fortunes that saw her mum, Gertrude, marry Bill – the man Nan came to call ‘Dad’.
And here’s Granddad (fourth from right, with his tin hat at a jaunty angle) and his fellow air raid wardens in Dulwich during World War II…
I was also very pleased to find this picture of Granddad (back row, left) with his parents and siblings in around 1920…
Aunty Jimmy is missing from the line-up for some reason. Perhaps she was making the tea. But that’s Aunty Pussy striking a pose with a kitten in her arms in the foreground. I’m wondering now whether Aunty Pussy’s rather ‘unusual’ name was due to her love of cats. It’s a much nicer theory than some I’ve come up with over the years.
And finally, here’s Nan circa 1980 – continuing the family’s love of wearing off-kilter headgear…
The crown was mine, by the way. But I didn’t mind lending it to genuine royalty…
Three years on, it’s testament to the hard work and tenacity of Steve at London Calling Blog – as well as the huge talent of the many street artists he’s lured to SE20 – that Penge now boasts an incredible open-air gallery to rival any other urban art hotspot in the world. And that’s why yesterday’s Penge street art tour, in memory of Dad – a Sunday stroll around most (but not all) of the walls – lasted a whopping six-and-a-half hours.
Steve and project volunteer John gave up their time to lead the walk – while Airborne Mark made an early start on Maple Road, painting yet another brilliant piece for Penge. Despite it being a typically cold and miserable end-of-January day, there was a huge turnout. Admittedly, some people did have to go home for lunch and/or a lie-down three or four hours into the walk – but there were still around 20 hardy souls who stayed right to the end!
Thanks to everybody’s generosity, the event raised £258.90 from donations and book sales for the hospice. That brings our running total up to £2,486.70 – and there’ll be more money on the way very soon. A massive thank you from the bottom of our hearts to Steve, John, Mark and everyone involved with the project.
And thank you Penge. (Shoreditch is so last decade.)
It’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…