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!‘)
Anyway, sifting through more of Dad’s weird and wonderful photographs led to Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning) and the inventively titled More Things My Dad Saw (But Never Bothered Mentioning). But then there were all the old family photographs, diaries, scrapbooks and letters from way-back-when to contend with. It made me think more and more about what it was like to grow up as an only child in a happy home with three amazing parents – Mum, Dad and Nan. I wanted to tell my Nan’s story, too. And so along came the next inventive title.
Ken Dodd and the polystyrene head
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!